Legal and Parliamentary Affiars Opinions Politics

Time to stop torture

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres

By Paidamoyo Muzulu


THIRTY-FOUR years is a long time. A very long time for Zimbabweans who still survive with the fear of the State security boot on their necks. Unfortunately, it seems even the so-called new dispensation is reluctant to domesticate the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).


The 34 years start when CAT entered into force on June 26, 1987, after 20 states had ratified the convention. The convention requires signatory parties to take measures to end torture within their territorial jurisdiction and to criminalise all acts of torture.


Many states across the globe were hesitant to domesticate or ratify the convention probably because all leaders at some level are autocrats and are wont to use force to keep a hold on power.


The UN General Assembly adopted resolution 39/46 on December 10, 1984. It took a good two and half years to have the first 20 countries ratify it for it to become a law.


The years 1984 and 1987 are significant to Zimbabwe. By 1984, the state security apparatus was in the middle of implementing Gukurahundi. Thousands of civilians in Matabeleland and Midland provinces were systematically tortured, inhumanely, and degradingly treated under the guise of combating dissidents in the region.


It is also important to note that 1987 is a poignant marker in the cessation of Gukurahundi and the signing of the Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF Zapu. This is an agreement that created and brought closest a one-party state to the country. Zanu Ndonga and the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe (former Rhodesian Front) had some insignificant representation in parliament.


It is critical to note Prime minister and first executive President Robert Mugabe was not in a rush to acknowledge the state abuse of power during Gukurahundi. His government did not ratify CAT. Mugabe closest apology about that dark period that killed an estimated 20 000 civilians was during the burial of former Vice President Joshua Nkomo when he said “Gukurahundi was a moment of madness.”


While many Zimbabweans, particularly from Mashonaland and Manicaland provinces may not have had a closer experience to torture sponsored by the state, post-2000 and the formation of this menace visited their doorsteps. Zimbabwe had bloody elections in 2000, 2002, and 2008. Hundreds lost their lives for supporting the opposition MDC and thousands were left maimed or with broken souls from torture sanction or abated by the state.


To many, it became apparent as after every bloody election the Zanu PF government would give a clemency order. No prosecution ever visited those who committed torture or gross human rights violations. They got away scot-free because they did heinous crimes in the name of the ruling elites.


It was not only opposition activists who suffered at the hands of state security agents and Zanu PF functionaries, but also journalists and civil society activists. The cases of Mark Chavhunduka and Ray Choto, journalists at The Standard, and Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko proved this.


Chavhunduka and Choto handed themselves over to police over a coup story, but the police released them into the hands of military or other shadowy state agents. They were held incommunicado for nearly two weeks. They would not be released even in the face of court orders.


When they were finally brought back to the civil world, Chavhunduka and Choto were brutalised, tortured and broken down. They had to go to some Nordic country to get specialised treatment. After their ordeal, they both lived in exile and unfortunately, Chavhunduka succumbed to injuries and died.


During the duo’s ordeal, Zimbabweans were alerted of the torture chambers in Goromonzi. The journalists alleged and it was never denied that they had been taken to some place in Goromonzi where the torture took place. Goromonzi then took a new dimension to Zimbabweans something akin to Guantanamo Bay in the United States – a place where human rights cease to exist, a place where no rules apply.


For Mukoko, it was a three weeks horror movie after she was abducted by state security agents from her Norton home one early morning. She was held incommunicado for a whole three weeks and brutally tortured at various state torture chambers.


In both cases, Chavhunduka and Choto and Mukoko, the state cases collapsed in court after it was proven torture had been used. It is trite in both domestic and international law that evidence, information or confessions obtained through torture are not legally recognised. It is a universally accepted view that a person will say or do anything under torture or even under a threat of torture to avoid the pain.


The question then follows; why do states use torture? It is probable and the only reason that torture is used to break down a person, infuse fear into those who witness it, or see the lucky ones who survive it. It enhances the rule by fear and raises the status of perpetrators to some demi-gods.


The Zimbabwe 2013 constitution outlaws the use of torture or degrading treatment. Why is Zimbabwe reluctant to domestic CAT? It may be time that the new dispensation once and for all domesticates CAT and put on notice those that thrived on fear using torture. Torture is inhuman and should not be tolerated in every society.


President Emmerson Mnangagwa the ball is in your court for you and your executive to finally put to good use your two-thirds majority by enacting progressive legislation starting with domesticating CAT for democracy to thrive.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende