THE human rights violations currently obtaining in the countryside by elements aligned to Zanu PF need to be understood in the context of world history.
The present violations need to be understood in the context of the Nuremberg Trials in post Second World War Germany, the International Tribunal on War Crimes in Rwanda among other cases where those who
abused human rights ended up facing both domestic and international criminal accountability.
Zimbabwe’s securocrats, rogue elements of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and Zanu PF thugs have behaved liked Hitler’s Gestapo or Mengistu’s Gerd when they killed thousands of Germans and Ethiopians respectively in order to safeguard dictatorships in those countries.
In the run-up to the June 27 presidential election run-off, the security forces in Zimbabwe and their surrogates in Zanu PF and war veterans are facing accusations of involvement in cases of forced disappearances, rapings, beatings, assaults, abductions torture, arson and murders of opposition supporters and other pro-democracy activists in order to intimidate them to vote for Mugabe or at least not to vote for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
What the leadership of these groups, especially the security forces, fail to appreciate is that they are committing crimes forbidden under international law.
Zimbabwe as a state is party to the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which outlaws torture and the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter. This regime of human rights forbids abuses against citizens such as the ones currently taking place in Zimbabwe.
For instance, Article 1 of CAT 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.”
More so, domestic law under the Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 15 forbids torture and other forms of inhuman and degrading punishment. The government of Zimbabwe, those in the security forces and Zanu PF thugs should fully understand the consequences of the current violence against opposition activists and innocent Zimbabweans in areas such as Mvurwi, Shamva, Mudzi and other parts of the country where they have become a law unto themselves.
These rogue elements should continue to abuse human rights in the countryside fully aware that both domestic and international law forbids their activities.
I suspect that some of the elements committing these crimes have done so since the Matabeleland and Midlands massacres in the 1980s and they live under the misguided view that nothing will happen to them. This is the reason why some top government politicians, military and intelligence people involved in the Matabeleland and Midlands killings continue to be mentioned as the drivers of the current madness. They live under the false hope that nothing will happen to them just like nobody during Hitler’s time ever thought that they could be tried for war crimes after the Second World War.
It is important for the government of Zimbabwe, or to be specific for President Mugabe, to understand under that article 55 of the United Nations Charter to which Zimbabwe is a member state, it is an obligation of states to promote universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In order to show the significance of promoting human rights, particularly the individual rights of citizens, article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both provide that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Zimbabwe under the leadership of Mugabe is party to this human rights regime and has no reason to violate it for political expedience.
It should also be known to the government of Zimbabwe and its surrogates that the protection of individual or citizens’ rights became an issue after the Second World War when the international community realised the need to protect individuals from powerful states
or dictatorships following the way Hitler and other dictators such as Italy’s Mussolini and Spain’s General Franco trampled upon the rights of citizens and minorities during their rule.
In the case of Germany, those who abused human rights under the Nazi rule which resulted in the massacre of more than six million in torture chambers, the allied powers established the Nuremberg Trials in 1945 to make them accountable to their misdeeds.
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of prosecutions of prominent members of the political, military and economic leadership of Nazi Germany from 1945 to 1949 at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. The first and best known of these trials was the trial of major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal which tried 24 prominent leaders of Nazi Germany.
I have tried to go back to history in order to remind those who have and are abusing human rights that their day of judgment will come just like it did to the Nazi, Gerd and Hutu militias. The authorities in Zimbabwe would know better that Mengistu, the former Ethiopian dictator who killed thousands of people during the Red Terror in Ethiopia was recently sentenced to life imprisonment together with some of his top aides.
The case of Rwanda is another that the Harare regime should take note of. While the international community remained aloof when the Hutu militias and extremists with the support of the incumbent regime then were involved in massacres against the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus in the 1994 genocide, the perpetrators have been hunted down and are facing justice. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor despite some temporary asylum in Nigeria is now facing trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague under international law. Those who are allegedly supporting or spearheading the murders of people in the rural areas and some urban centres should know that nothing lasts forever.
The Zimbabwe body polity is witnessing similar crimes committed against the civilian population by armed elements. If the state was not involved in the current killings and abductions of opposition activists, numerous arrests and prosecutions could have been witnessed. However, what we get from the authorities are denials while lawlessness is the norm in some parts of the country.
What we see in Zimbabwe is the leadership of a party which lost the parliamentary poll accusing the victims of its well-organised violence of committing atrocities against innocent villagers. But the truth is that while people in government are misleading themselves into believing that they are untouchable and will never account for their blatant crimes, there are brave people among ourselves who are busy documenting the incidents detailing who did what, where, when, how and why and this will form the basis of Nuremberg-type trials post the life of this regime no matter how long it clings on to power.
By Pedzisai Ruhanya: Human rights researcher based in Harare.