'Violence perpetrators walk scot-free'

HARARE - “These perpetrators are still freely roaming the streets, I mentioned them by name, they are known, but somehow they continue to operate with impunity.”

These were the words of Zimbabwean lawyer Gabriel Shumba a few days ago from his home in South Africa where he has lived in exile since 2003. They are words that can be echoed by thousands of other Zimbabweans who have suffered abuse in the name of politics in the past 13 years.

Shumba was detained and tortured at the hands of police and intelligence personnel a decade ago, arrested while taking instruction from his MDC clients in January 2003. He was kicked, beaten, electrocuted, threatened with death and subjected to prolonged torture and degradation.

Last week, Shumba spoke on SW Radio Africa after what has been described as a landmark ruling was handed down by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

Shumba presented his case to the African Commission in 2004 when he was just 29 years-old and from then till now pursued it through periods of depression and despair, until a ruling was finally made. Now almost 40 years old Shumba has finally got the judgment he waited for so long.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has ruled that the Zimbabwean government was responsible for the torture and ill treatment of Shumba in 2003. The Commission said that Shumba had produced “more than adequate evidence” to support his allegations of torture and electric shocks to many parts of his body.

The Commission acknowledged that if Shumba had returned to Zimbabwe to try and seek justice at home, he could not have been safe and there was no guarantee that he could not have been arrested and subjected to the same treatment again.

The African Commission said Zimbabwe should open an official investigation into the abuse of Shumba and bring those responsible to justice as well as compensate Shumba for the “torture and trauma caused to him.”

With this ruling, the African Commission has, for the first time ever, acknowledged that Zimbabwe has violated Article 5 of the African Charter.  Article 5 states: ‘‘Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.’

Commenting on the ruling Shumba said this was a moral victory, a huge decision on the African continent and one which sets a very good precedent.

“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.”

What happens next is critical.

Will the government choose to ignore the ruling or will they set up the official investigation called for by the Commission?

Shumba explained that the African Commission ruling demanding an enquiry, had provided a way for senior members of the government to absolve themselves from guilt.

If a commission of enquiry established who was responsible for the abuse and brought that individual to book, it would then, in his words: “point to the fact that it was not ordered from the highest office in the country.”

What better time than now to identify and convict the real perpetrators as we approach an election after which people who have been hiding behind the protection of office will become ordinary Zimbabweans like the rest of us? - Cathy Buckle

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