Societies emerging from a history of political crimes and other serious human rights violations should instead seek to create a long-term strategy to ensure that the truth is told in public, justice is done and that reparations are paid to all the victims of abuses.
Perhaps Mugabe needs to be told that amnesty on its own is a form of injustice. However, in situations where it cannot be avoided, it is complemented with reparations and closure. In this sense, truth, justice and reparation are three aspects of the struggle against the impunity called amnesty.
By calling for amnesty on those guilty of political violence, Mugabe is subordinating justice to political self-interest, thereby shielding criminal elements who perpetrated violence both on his behalf and as non-state actors sympathetic to Zanu PF.
Justice cannot be politicised because calls for justice are calls for recognition of the mis-recognised. There can never be any reconciliation without accountability. Amnesty is problematic because it promotes impunity.
The political violence Zimbabweans encountered during the run-up to the country’s 2008 elections and going back to the Gukurahundi massacres calls for socio-political reform of the former British colony.
Principle VII of the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law explains: “Remedies for gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law include the victim’s right to the following as provided for under international law: (a) Equal and effective access to justice; (b) Adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered; and (c) Access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanisms.”
Mugabe’s proposal to forgive political offenders is an attempt for himself and his allies to avoid punishment for past political violence crimes that have blighted Zimbabwe since he took office in 1980.
Politically sanctioned-violence in Zimbabwe is well documented, including the harassment of MDC members and the thorough beating up of Morgan Tsvangirai by the police.
Those who supported the MDC have borne the brunt of organised state-sanctioned political violence since 2000 with several hundreds killed while many more have been displaced by war veterans and youth militia.
The Fifth Brigade which left 20 000 civilians dead in Matabeleland and Midlands areas allegedly reported to Mugabe — as commander-in chief of the Defence Forces.
The application of international law on the Fifth Brigade massacres is clear –– when there are problems in a particular area of the country and you send an army, and that army happens to target civilians –– the regime responsible for the army has committed crimes against humanity which is prosecutable (Geneva Convention of 1948, Additional Article of 1977).
The Fifth Brigade deployed to Matabeleland to hunt down dissidents targeted civilians. Perhaps the most traumatising pain among victims and survivors of this “moment of madness” is that no single person has been prosecuted and some of the officers who commanded Fifth Brigade are now seniors in the Zimbabwe National Army.
Apart from the Fifth Brigade crimes, there was the murder of Captain Edwin Nleya in Hwange, the Rashiwe Ghuzha saga, the missing MDC activist Patrick Nabanyama, the murder of Tsvangirai’s aide Tichaona Chiminya and many more others who lost their lives. Some of the people were tortured and left disabled. There is no doubt Zimbabwe is a traumatised nation. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Mugabe is aware of the future ramifications of this kind of actions –– hence he wants amnesty for political crimes without justice for victims.
Without justice, there can never be reconciliation, hence the idea of amnesty is a mockery to victims’ right to demand accountability and reparations. It is of paramount importance that past human rights violations are discussed and justice is done, and that reparations are provided to all the victims instead of Mugabe’s proposed amnesty.
Instead, Mugabe should lobby for the placation of the victims in line with international human rights law. He should ensure that serious violations of international humanitarian law victims are provided with full and effective reparation in its five forms: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
This can be done through legislative, institutional and other reforms which must be passed to address the causes of the human rights violations. This should include reforming Zimbabwe’s judicial system to ensure that it fully complies with international law.
I have perused through books on transitional and troubled nations and failed to come up with cases where such a scrappy amnesty policy ever worked. Instead, what Mugabe is doing amounts to aggravating the scars created by his regime.
The Zimbabwean president’s amnesty proposal is both illegal in terms of international law, and immoral.
This reminds me of what ill-fated Chile’s Augusto Pinochet of Chile did. He signed amnesty into law to cover up for his political crimes before stepping down as the country’s supreme leader — but that amnesty was only in force for a few years before the new government overturned it. The victims sought to confront Pinochet over his years of brutality as leader of the South American nation.
In a perfect world, if Mugabe has nothing to fear, he should institute thorough investigations into allegations of human rights violations which must be undertaken by independent and impartial institutions, which must be granted the necessary authority and resources for their task.
The results of such investigations should be made public to provide a full account of the facts to the victims, their relatives and society as a whole.
- Admore Tshuma is a Zimbabwean journalist researching for a Phd in the United Kingdom and specialises in poverty and social justice in transitional nations. Email: email@example.com.
By Admore Tshuma