The launch of the South African No Torture Consortium on International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture, June 26, 2008, takes place at an unprecedented historical moment in the region – the withdrawal of the opposition political party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), from the run-off election for President, scheduled for Friday, June 27, 2008.
In the absence of any credibility or legitimacy, the various role-players in former President Mugabe's oppressive state machinery including the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Zimbabwean army, government militias, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), government-organized war veterans and ZANU-PF members, have intensified their “war” on Zimbabwean civilians in a process that has followed a relentless course since the perpetration of the Matabeleland massacres of some 20,000 civilians, soon after Zimbabwe's independence in 1981.
Torture has been a consistent feature of this campaign that intensified in 2000 after the government's defeat in the constitutional referendum and the subsequent violent eviction of white commercial farmers and their farm workers from farms. Torture became endemic throughout 2001 as a tool used by the state in their preparations for the March 2002 presidential election in which President Mugabe's re-election was widely disputed. This election was followed by the virtual destruction of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Zimbabwe, the banning of the country's independent newspapers and economic collapse. During 2003, gross human rights violations on a widespread and systematic scale, including torture, continued unabated and peaked during by-elections and opposition-led strikes and stayaways. There was a drop in reports of torture and organized violence immediately preceding the March 2005 parliamentary election but this situation has now been reversed. The brutal and systematic destruction of Zimbabwe's informal sector that supported 80% of the country's citizens (Operation Murambatsvina) was accompanied by reports of torture and the withholding of crucial food aid from large sections of the population. Violations have continued to intensify and have reached staggering proportions – on the scale of “crimes against humanity”, the highest level of criminal offence within the system of international law.
Within the region on several occasions, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) has expressed its deepest concern at the Zimbabwean government's defiance of its calls for it to comply with human rights norms. The African Commission is clear (Article 5) in its prohibition against torture, premised on "the dignity inherent in a human being". It has stated that the currrent Zimbabwean government has repeatedly trampled on that dignity through the widespread use of torture, through the failure to prevent torture and the refusal to investigate and prosecute those responsible and to afford proper reparations to the victims of torture
It is time for all concerned citizens in the Southern African region to stand with the beleagured citizens of Zimbabwe and to call on the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security of the Southern African Development Community and on the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to authorise urgent interventions to stop the killings, mutilations and gross human rights violations including torture, being perpetrated against Zimbabwean citizens, given the failure of the exhaustive efforts of member states in the region to resolve the situation through alternative peaceful methods. It is also time for the United Nations Security Council to authorise an International Criminal Court investigation into the crimes of former President Mugabe and his associates that have unleashed suffering on such an unprecedented scale because they constitute so severe a “threat to the peace of the [southern African] region”.
As the South African No Torture Consortium (SANTOC) is launched on June 26, we call for an end to the impunity of former President Mugabe and his associates in Zimbabwe; we mourn the suffering these actions have caused to so many in this region; and we acknowledge our responsibility to speak out as we call for an end to torture in Zimbabwe and across the African continent. SANTOC will do everything in its power to end the practice of torture in this region and to support the rehabilitation of survivors of torture.
For further information please call Marjorie Jobson Khulumani Support Group 082 268 0223 or Miriam Fredericks, The Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture (021) 465 7373.
Statement prepared by Marjorie Jobson, Acting National Director of Khulumani Support Group