THE Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) this week released a damning report on its findings on the disturbances and brutal crackdown on civilians by armed members of the security forces during last week’s business shutdown.
Editor’s Memo: Faith Zaba
The commission stated that the Zimbabwe National Army and Zimbabwe Republic Police instigated systematic torture.
ZHRC said vandalism, looting and destruction of property did not justify torture of citizens by security forces, as “the right to freedom from torture is one right that cannot be derogated from under any circumstances.”
This was made clear in a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jestina Mukoko versus the Attorney-General. It ruled that “no exceptional circumstances, such as the seriousness of the crime the person is suspected of having committed, or the danger he or she is believed to pose to national security, can justify infliction of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment”.
It cannot be denied that the armed forces used excessive force — unnecessary when dealing with unarmed civilians. The brutality led to the injury of hundreds of civilians and the death of 12 people, gunned down by the security personnel.
This transpired when President Emmerson Mnangagwa was in eastern Europe. But, obviously the order to deploy the soldiers could only have been given by him in accordance with the law. According to section 100 of the constitution, an acting president can only deploy the Defence Forces when a resolution is passed by a majority of the total membership of the cabinet. The deployment last week could only have been through an undeclared state of emergency, as it was not proclaimed in the Government Gazette per the law.
Section 213 of the constitution gives the President power to deploy the army, in support of the police, to maintain public order. However, section 214 outlines that when the military is deployed to assist police to maintain law and order, the President must cause parliament to be informed, promptly and in appropriate detail, of the reasons for their deployment.
Mnangagwa, in a tweet on Tuesday, promised to investigate members of the security forces for the violence, saying: “Likewise, violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe. Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated.
If required, heads will roll.”
Reading the tweet, it sounds like he will deal decisively with the rogue soldiers found to have participated in human rights abuses that resulted in the loss of lives and injury of citizens in various high-density suburbs, after being subjected to savage beatings, with some occurring in the dead of night.
The assurance, though, sounds hollow given that Mnangagwa is yet to act on recommendations made by the former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe-led commission into post-election violence that resulted in the death of six civilians in August last year.
The Motlanthe commission clearly laid the blame for the deaths of the civilians on the doorstep of the security forces, but weeks later, Mnangagwa is yet to act.
Soldiers who opened fire on unarmed civilians have not been brought to book and it does not look like they ever will. There were valuable lessons to take away from that experience. The police should use other methods of dispersing crowds, such as teargas, rubber bullets and water canisters, rather than live bullets.
When he set up the commission to investigate the August 1 killings, he promised to deal with those implicated without fear or favour. The nation is waiting.
The President’s pledge sounds as idealistic as promises made by his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, to weed out corruption.
Mnangagwa must be pragmatic to regain people’s trust, especially with reports of more than 20 young girls having been brutally sexually assaulted by members of the security forces. This is just not acceptable and cannot be wished away or swept under the carpet.
Zimbabwe does not need commissions of inquiry, which gobble taxpayers’ money, without yielding the much-needed justice.
Unless and until Mnangagwa lives up to his word, his utterances will be dismissed as all bark but no bite. At a time the President is trying to prove that he is leading a new dispensation, the failure to deliver on his promises will have a detrimental effect on his leadership and tarnish the legacy he so desperately needs.