Why are political killers allowed to roam free?

LAST week we published a letter from Morgan Tsvangirai’s lawyers to the Attorney-General asking what progress, if any, was being made to apprehend and bring to trial the alleged killers of two MDC activists in A

pril 2000, Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika. The two were election workers who were burnt to death in an attack at Murambinda growth point, Buhera North.

An employee of the Office of the President, Joseph Mwale, was, according to evidence heard in an electoral petition and recorded in judgement, “a principal offender and ringleader in the assassinations” who is still at large.

The two victims were bludgeoned unconscious before being burnt alive. The judge, Justice Devittie, described the killings as particularly “cold-hearted, brutal, and politically-motivated”. He said they were a “wicked act”.

Despite this no warrant of arrest was sought. Indeed, it would appear Mwale was promoted. A record of evidence in the hearing was stolen from a locked room at the courthouse. Nevertheless, the Attorney-General’s office required the Commissioner of Police to investigate and make a report about the murders to facilitate a prosecution in terms of Section 76 (4a) of the constitution. Such a report should have been made and included in the commissioner’s annual report to the minister to be laid before parliament.

Inquiries at parliament have found no trace of such a report, Tsvangirai’s lawyers say. When two suspects in the same case were eventually arraigned, the AG’s representative advised the High Court that the delay in bringing charges against them was due to political interference. But no one was charged with obstructing or attempting to defeat the course of justice.

This is an emblematic case. Farmer David Stevens was murdered the same Easter weekend in 2000. The prosecution of his alleged killers appears to be stalled. He was seized by armed men from a police station to be bludgeoned and shot dead.

The government is proposing to set up a Human Rights Commission yet has failed to pursue cases involving its own senior employees. There are numerous other cases of individuals being assaulted and tortured while in custody where there have been no known prosecutions. The cases of Gabriel Shumba and Tonderayi Machiridza come to mind. Shumba survived, Machiridza didn’t.

One of the functions of the Human Rights Commission is to investigate cases involving “state actors”, we are told. Why does the government need a commission to investigate and prosecute state employees implicated in human rights violations? Why are people like Mwale able to act with impunity and then enjoy what looks very much like state protection.

Torture and extra-judicial killings such as happened in this case are international crimes and a violation of the Convention Against Torture. They are also a violation of United Nations and African Union treaties to which Zimbabwe is a party.

Six years since the double killings in Buhera, described in the letter to the AG as “showcase murders” committed in front of witnesses, there has been no progress in the case.

“The continuing failure to take any effective measures against everyone implicated,” Tsvangirai’s lawyers argue, “undoubtedly creates the appearance that some can get away with murder in Zimbabwe.”

It also suggests, they point out, ongoing political interference and raises questions about the role of the AG’s office.

When the 18th amendment is introduced before parliament to establish the Human Rights Commission, it is our sincere hope that civil society and MPs will demand to know why so many cases of torture and killings have not been brought to trial and why political killers roam free? A Human Rights Commission in a society where human rights are routinely ignored or violated by the state itself is pointless.

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