ACHPR orders Zim to compensate torture victim

HARARE - The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has found the Zimbabwean government responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of Zimbabwean human rights advocate and lawyer Gabriel Shumba.
 
The ruling was delivered at the Banjul-based ACHPR’s extra-ordinary session held from February 18 to 25 in the Gambia.

This is the first time in the ACHPR’s 26-year history it is holding Zimbabwe responsible for torture.

Shumba, who was representing human rights activists and members of the then opposition MDC, was tortured at the hands of the police and intelligence personnel.

He says he was arrested by the Zimbabwean anti-riot police and personnel from the Central Intelligence Organisation on January 14, 2003, while taking instructions from a client.

Shumba was kicked and beaten, detained without charge and severely tortured and ill-treated for several hours.

He says interrogators threatened him  with death, electrocuted him and poured a chemical substance over his body.

He lost control of his bodily functions, vomited blood and was forced to drink his vomit.

Following his torture in 2003, he was forced to flee to South Africa, where is the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum and advocate of the High Court of South Africa and a member of the Johannesburg Bar.

“This important ruling adds to Africa’s struggle against impunity, and the case is representative of thousands who have suffered torture and various indignities at the hands of a repressive regime in Zimbabwe,” Shumba, who fled to South Africa for fear of his life in 2003 shortly after his torture, said.

Shumba brought a complaint before the African Commission in 2004.

In its decision, the ACHPR considered that Shumba had submitted “more than adequate evidence” to support his allegation of torture and ill-treatment, including being subjected to prolonged electric shocks in the mouth, genitals, fingers, toes and other parts of the body. It said Zimbabwe failed to open an official investigation and that it should do so and bring those responsible to justice.

The decision also alluded to the impunity with which torture is being committed in Zimbabwe which made it impossible for Shumba to seek justice before Zimbabwean courts.

The ACHPR has been created by the African Union to protect and promote human rights and to interpret the African Charter. The eleven commissioners ruled that Zimbabwe did not respect human rights and the African Charter the country has ratified when they tortured Shumba.

In particular, it acknowledged that he would have undergone great risks had he returned to Zimbabwe to seek justice, stating that “there was no guarantee that he would not have been arrested or subjected to the same treatment he had been subjected to the previous time.”

The Commission also made it clear that remedies in Zimbabwe “are inadequate, ineffective and unavailable” and ordered Zimbabwe to pay Shumba adequate compensation for the torture and trauma caused to him.
Zimbabwe has 90 days to implement the decision.

“The government of Zimbabwe and the African Union’s commitment to ending impunity will be measured against a clear yardstick of implementation of the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights,” Shumba said.

“This decision is emblematic of the widespread use of State terror to coerce and cow a subject population.
‘‘It is not merely a legal decision in favour of a single victim but rather a recognition by Africa’s most important and prestigious institution that the practice of disappearing people and beating them to within an inch of their lives will no longer be ignored by Zimbabwe’s neighbours,” said David Padilla, Shumba’s lawyer.

“The decision once more underlines the crucial role of the Commission in providing justice to victims who have nowhere else to go”, said Haile, interim-director of Redress, who supported Shumba’s claim.
 
“While we would have hoped that the Commission’s ruling on reparation is more inclusive of other forms of reparation recognised under international law, particularly access to medical and psychological rehabilitation, this ruling is an important acknowledgment of the torture committed against Mr Shumba and the obligation of the government of Zimbabwe to provide him with compensation.” - Staff Writer

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