Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights ZLHR notes that thirty-one (31) human rights defenders aligned to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ZCTU appeared in the Harare Magistrates’ Court at Rotten Row on 3 October 2006, following their arrest and detention whilst attempting to engage in peaceful protest in Harare recently.
Whilst ZLHR welcomes the directive by Magistrate William Bhila to the Criminal Investigation Department to undertake a fresh inquiry into the allegations of torture inflicted by police on detainees in their custody, it is an established principle of law that, where allegations of torture have been made, any proceedings should be halted until such time as the investigations have been finalised.
Where torture is proved to have occurred, all charges against a detainee must be dropped as any warned and cautioned statements and/or confessions are considered to be unsound. This also functions as a deterrent for law enforcement and investigating authorities where they use torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as a means to bolster the state’s case against accused persons. Thus, insofar as the court has decided to entertain a hearing of the case on the merits, set for 17 October 2006, rather than await the outcome of the investigation into these serious allegations, this cannot be considered just and fair treatment of an accused person.
This is not the first time that an order has been made for an investigation into alleged torture inflicted on detained persons by law enforcement agents. ZLHR sincerely hopes that a professional inquiry is undertaken and any perpetrators are brought to swift justice, especially as justice has not been seen to have been done in the past.
Torture is prohibited under international law, as well as under the Constitution of Zimbabwe, and no arm of government can be seen to be condoning such heinous acts, which perpetuate the culture of impunity within our society.