Doughty Street Members in landmark Zimbabwe decision on Torture

09.12.13 | |

In a landmark decision for local and international justice, on 27 November the South African Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the South African Police Service (SAPS) to investigate high level Zimbabwean officials accused of committing crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe.


In its judgment, the Court made it clear that the perpetrators of systematic torture – as was alleged in this case – can be held accountable in South Africa regardless of where the offending acts took place. The Court noted that such crimes strike ‘at the whole of humankind and impinge[] on the international conscience’.

“The Court’s decision makes it clear that South Africa has a legal obligation to investigate the perpetrators of international crimes wherever those crimes were committed,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which brought the case along with the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF). “The Supreme Court ruling confirms that the dispensing of international justice is not restricted to international forums, and commits the South African authorities to play their part in ensuring that torturers and other international criminals are held accountable for their actions.”

In 2008, SALC submitted a dossier to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) containing evidence of the involvement of key Zimbabwean officials in perpetrating crimes against humanity in relation to the torture of opposition party members in March 2007 – and called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the SAPS to initiate an investigation into the alleged crimes.

The NPA and SAPS refused to investigate so SALC and ZEF appealed this administrative decision to the High Court, which ruled in their favour in 2012. That decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

During its ruling today, the Supreme Court outlined the evidence in the dossier noting that it included evidence of severe physical assaults, including the use of baseball bats, water-boarding and electrical shocks being applied to genitalia by Zimbabwean officials.

“Zimbabweans can be proud today knowing that South Africa will not shirk from its responsibility to ensure justice for victims of crimes against humanity,” said Gabriel Shumba, the Chairperson of ZEF. “This judgment is a critical step in the international fight against impunity.”

SALC and ZEF were represented by two Doughty Street members, Advocates Gilbert Marcus SC, and Advocate Max du Plessis, led by Wim Trengove SC.

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