Today, on the 26th of June 2022, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum joins the rest of the world in commemorating the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (UNCAT). This is in line with the 12 December 1997 resolution 52/149 that was proclaimed at the UN General Assembly.
The commemorations come at a time when Zimbabwe is failing to protect its citizens from acts of torture perpetrated on ordinary citizens and political opponents by both political actors and members of the security and law enforcement services. The Forum continues to be concerned about the unending persecution of the then Movement for Democratic Change Alliance members Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova and Member of Parliament Joanna Mamombe who were abducted and tortured in 2020 but were then turned into accused persons in connection with the same matter. More recently, victims whose houses were destroyed during the recent political violence which engulfed Nyatsime, Chitungwiza following the gruesome murder of Moreblessing Ali have also been turned into accused persons. Precious Jeche, Audious Makoma and Misheck Guzha were arrested on 20 June 2022 after being called to Marondera Police Station. The trio had on Friday travelled all the way to Beatrice to report their cases of miscellaneous damage to property after ZRP St Marys Police Station, a stone-throw away from Nyatsime, refused to accept the report. And in a sudden turn of events, the three have been arrested and charged with public violence. This demonstrates that Zimbabwe is many strides away from non-participation in acts of torture.
Additionally, as Zimbabwe is gearing towards the 2023 harmonized elections, the recently held 26 March by-elections have shown that opposition political party supporters mostly continue to be targets of physical and psychological torture antics at the hands of the state. For example, the Citizens Coalition for Change supporter Godfrey “Madzibaba veShanduko” Karembera was tortured in police custody with the police issuing a statement undertaking to carry out investigations. That was the last the public was updated on any developments in the matter. The Forum notes with concern the use of arbitrary arrests especially involving opposition legislators. Two opposition legislators, Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole were arrested on 14 June 2022 on charges of inciting public violence and have remained in custody since then. When one considers the number of times Hon Sikhala has been arrested and the fact that he has never been convicted, one can conclude that such arrests are meant to punish him for his political beliefs.
The UNCAT Article 1.1 defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.
The Convention requires member states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction and forbids member states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured. In the Zimbabwean context, this day serves as a reminder of the continuous persecution of citizens through systematic torture, injustice, impunity of perpetrators and absence of accountability. Over 171 states in the world have ratified the UNCAT but, Zimbabwe has not ratified the Convention. Zimbabwe recently underwent its 3rd cycle of the Universal Peer Review (UPR). Most countries recommended that Zimbabwe ratifies the UNCAT.
Despite the 2013 Constitution in section 53 making an explicit provision against acts of torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment, there is indeed regression through disregard of this constitutional clause. It is without a doubt that historically, Zimbabwe has seen cycles of violence that have recurred into the present times. These have instead continued to disunite and cause deep polarization amongst ordinary citizens and political parties.
The Forum notes with concern the fact that the Independent Complaints Commission Bill was gazetted in November 2020 following a Constitutional Court ruling which had given the government 45 days to come up with the Bill. While the government complied with this ruling, this was only to the effect of bringing the Bill before Parliament. It is now almost two years since the Bill was stuck in Parliament. There is a need for the finalisation of this Bill so as to create an independent entity to investigate complaints, including torture, against the security services.
As we commemorate this day, the Forum urges the Government of Zimbabwe to:
- Remind the security forces and law enforcement officers of their mandate to protect and enforce laws on citizens instead of turning on citizens.
- Enact or review the legislative framework that criminalizes torture, attaching a stiff penalty for perpetrators.
- Give priority to the passing of the Independent Complaints Commission Bill envisaged in terms of Section 210 of the Constitution.
- Ratify and domesticate the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Additional Protocol so as to adhere to the international standards in prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.
Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum