High Court Orders South African Authorities to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity Committed in Zimbabwe
News Release – Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
8 May 2012
JOHANNESBURG – In a landmark decision for local and international justice,
the North Gauteng High Court ruled this morning that the South African
authorities must investigate Zimbabwean officials, who are accused of
involvement in torture and crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe.
“This judgment will send a shiver down the spines of Zimbabwean officials
who believed that they would never be held to account for their crimes but
now face investigation by the South African authorities,” said Nicole Fritz,
Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which
brought the case along with the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum (ZEF).
In a very strong ruling, Judge Hans Fabricius said that the National
Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Services (SAPS) had
acted unconstitutionally and unlawfully in not taking forward the original
investigation. His judgment also underlined in the strongest terms South
Africa’s obligations under international law.
“This decision is not just about Zimbabwe, it also sets a much broader
precedent by ruling that South African authorities have a duty to
investigate international crimes wherever they take place,” said Fritz. “It
is a major step forward for international criminal justice.”
In March 2012, SALC and ZEF argued in the High Court that the decision of
the NPA and SAPS not to investigate Zimbabwean officials linked to acts of
state-sanctioned torture should be set aside. Brought in terms of South
Africa’s International Criminal Court Act, which defines torture as a crime
against humanity, the applicants' argued that the NPA and SAPS had failed to
take into account South Africa’s international and domestic law obligations
to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes regardless
of where they are committed or by whom.
The case highlighted South Africa’s duty to investigate crimes against
humanity, the sufficiency of the evidence presented by SALC to the NPA and
SAPS to trigger an investigation and how irrelevant considerations – such as
political concerns – improperly influenced the decision. The case also
exposed divisions within the NPA after Anton Ackermann, the head of the
Priority Crimes Litigation Unit that is responsible for the investigation
and prosecution of international crimes, stated in an affidavit that he
believed that an investigation should have been initiated and that he was
not satisfied with the manner in which SALC’s request was dealt with.
For more information and interviews contact:
Nicole Fritz, SALC Executive Director, +27 11 587 5065, Cell +27 82 600
Gabriel Shumba, ZEF Chairperson, Cell +27 72 639 3795
Alan Wallis, SALC, Off + 27 11 587 5065, Cell +27 82 826 5700;
SALC promotes human rights and the rule of law in southern Africa through
litigation, advocacy and training. ZEF seeks to combat impunity and achieve
justice for human rights violations in Zimbabwe and to support Zimbabweans
in exile. Lawyers for Human Rights represented SALC and ZEF in this matter.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre
t: +27 (0) 11 587 5000
f: +27 (0) 11 587 5099