Monday, February 22, 2010

Human Rights: Zimbabwe - beatings on the soles of their feet

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (Hrforumzim)


"We beat prisoners beneath the foot, we are not crazy enough to hit the whole body because that can be used against us in court."

This is what a senior Zimbabwean police officer is reported to have told a South African newspaper in an interview, thus confirming the use of torture by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, (ZRP) and it is still the case that the ZRP resort to this horrible practice, as evidenced in the allegations of the use of falanga in the torture of Jestina Mukoko and the other 41 abductees.

Although torture has been seen in all three previous decades of Zimbabwe, it has become so commonplace since 2000 that it is only when particularly repugnant episodes occur that there is publicly expressed revulsion of it. Since its formation in 1998, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum [Human Rights Forum] has issued a large number of reports about torture, urging an end to this vile practice. Despite this torture still continues to be practised on a widespread basis in Zimbabwe.

Falanga is unequivocally a form of torture and constitutes a serious criminal assault under Zimbabwean law. This form of torture has become particularly prevalent in the past five years. Although falanga has been reported in previous decades, it now appears to be very widespread indeed, and almost routine, both inside and outside of places of detention. It is used by the police as well as non-state actors that are supporters of the government.

The police have a constitutional and professional duty to protect people against unlawful assaults and yet members of the police force are frequently perpetrating acts of torture as is documented in this report and has also been documented in previous reports of the Human Rights Forum. The evidence establishes that the practice of torture, including falanga, is not carried out by a few aberrant law enforcement officers but instead is widespread and systematic. It is evident that it is not only the ZRP that are guilty of falanga, but that it has become a widespread practice carried out by proxy forces of the Zimbabwe government, and mostly by supporters and members of ZANU PF.

What is torture?

Torture is one of the worst forms of inhumane treatment, involving as it does the deliberate infliction of severe pain, mental suffering and degradation upon a person who is in a helpless condition. It is usually carried out in a way that is grossly humiliating to the victim. It generally stops short of causing death, but sometimes victims are tortured to death. It causes physical injury (sometimes permanent disabling injury) and usually also leads to drastic longterm psychological harm.

Torture is a vile practice which any civilized society will do everything possible to prevent and eradicate. As the Supreme Court observed, in the case of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe v Attorney-General1, "the right not to be subjected to torture stands as a sentinel over human misery, degradation and oppression."

No civilized nation will permit its law enforcement agencies or its military forces to make use of torture or seek to justify, excuse or condone the use of such practices by these personnel. No civilized government will encourage or allow irregular forces or militias to inflict torture upon its opponents. No civilized nation will grant an amnesty or pardon to persons who have used torture. Instead, a civilized nation will ensure that all persons who are alleged to have engaged in this despicable practice are prosecuted and, if found guilty, are punished in a manner that takes account of the gravity of this crime. Victims should also be entitled to claim civil compensation for the harm they have suffered.

In international law, torture can constitute a crime against humanity. Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, torture will constitute a crime against humanity, if it is "committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack", and the attack was "pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy to commit such attack." The Rome Statute thus requires that the crime against humanity constituted by official use of torture be part of a widespread and systematic attack against civilians in pursuit of state policy. On the other hand, under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), a single act of official torture is enough to fall foul of the Torture Convention.

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