Editor’s Memo: Justice Awaits Rapists

ZIMBABWE has never seen a violence-free election since universal suffrage was introduced in 1980.

In that year there were three armies and several party militias which had been fighting each other for the better part of a decade, so tempers were always bound to be taut.

But it was also that election that nurtured the culture of violence which we see entrenched in Zimbabwe today.

The main reason this phenomenon has entrenched itself in our body politic is the impunity that came with it; perpetrators were rarely punished for their crimes.

Between March and June last year violence was at its ugliest: 200 people were reported to have been killed by people who have developed a knack for suppressing dissent.

The wanton murders horrified not only ordinary Zimbabweans but the world at large. But what did not get the attention they deserved were the other forms of political violence which went unreported.

One of the most gruesome was the use of systematic rape as a political weapon for intimidation and recruitment.

What is apparent is that among the supporters of some parties are people who are easily manipulated to perform these atrocities with assurances of impunity; they are assured that they would get away with their crimes.

Aids Free World, a non-governmental organisation led by a former UN special envoy Stephen Lewis, said in a report published in Johannesburg this month entitled Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, supporters of Zanu-PF engaged in the systematic violent rape of women who supported the opposition in the widely discredited second-round presidential poll in 2008.

Commenting on the report Human-rights activist Elinor Sisulu said it was essential that concrete steps be taken to prevent similar abuses before another election is held in Zimbabwe.

“This should be prevented, there should not be another election in Zimbabwe unless these issues are addressed, and unless there is some level of addressing the impunity and some level of accountability on the part of the perpetrators,” she said.

It seems perpetrators of political violence in Zimbabwe are not aware of international justice. They think that because the parties on whose behalf they commit violence are in power then they are forever protected from the law.

Not so! International justice has become a reality and whatever crimes are committed will be dealt with sooner or later. There will be no impunity.

Most likely these political thugs have not heard of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which should not be confused with the International Court of Justice, although both are based in The Hague, The Netherlands.

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute and it is uncompromising when it comes to crimes against humanity including rape. One analyst said: “The Rome Statute is groundbreaking in its provisions on and definition of sexual crimes. History is full of examples of women being targeted as victims of sexual assault in times of armed conflict. But these acts of sexual violence have often been accepted as a natural consequence of war. The Rome Statute is the first international treaty to recognise a range of sexual and gender violence as among the most serious crimes under international law. The criminalisation of violent sexual and gender-directed acts in the Statute as crimes against humanity and as war crimes represents a significant step forward in the international community’s recognition of these crimes.”

The ICC is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and later it may prosecute the crime of aggression.

Zimbabwe signed the treaty in 1998 but did not ratify the Rome Statute which established the court on July 1 2002. Because Zimbabwe did not ratify the Rome Statute there is a false sense of security among parties that thrive on violence which believe that they are out of the reach of the ICC.

The ICC can generally exercise jurisdiction only in cases where the accused is a national of a state that has ratified the statute but the United Nations Security Council can also refer cases to the ICC, even if the country in which the crimes have been committed are not signatories to the Rome Statute. This is an important point which may be missed by those who instigate crimes against humanity.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan gave this warning when congratulating the states that were the first to ratify the statute in 2002: “The time has at last come when humanity no longer has to bear impotent witness to the worst atrocities, because those tempted to commit such crimes will know that justice awaits them.”

Perpetrators of crimes against humanity will be prosecuted individually, so hiding behind a group or party will not protect them from the law.  The statute expressly states that any person who commits a crime shall be individually responsible and liable for punishment.

Further, any individual shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime if the individual commits such a crime, whether as an individual, jointly with another or through another person, regardless of whether that other person is criminally responsible.

If a person orders, solicits or induces the commission of such a crime which in fact occurs or is attempted, he is also liable for prosecution.

Perpetrators of violence should be aware of the fact that they are being watched wherever they are and to use the old cliche the long arm of the law will catch up with them.

 

Nevanji Madanhire

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