ACHPR finds Zimbabwe guilty of torture
Gabriel Shumba tortured by Zimbabwe
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has found the Zimbabwe Government responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of Gabriel Shumba, a well-known human rights advocate and lawyer from Zimbabwe. This is the first time in its 26-year history for the most important human rights body in Africa to hold Zimbabwe responsible for torture.
Shumba, who was representing human rights activists and members of the opposition party MDC before courts in Zimbabwe at the time of his arrest and torture at the hands of the police and intelligence personnel, emphasised that the ruling went beyond his case.
“This important ruling adds to Africa’s struggle against impunity, and the case is representative of thousands who have suffered torture and various indignities at the hands of a repressive regime in Zimbabwe,” said Shumba, who fled to South Africa for fear of his life in 2003, shortly after his torture.
Shumba brought a complaint before the African Commission in 2004 and in its decision, the ACHPR considered that Shumba had submitted “more than adequate evidence” to support his allegation of torture and ill-treatment, including being subjected to prolonged electric shocks in the mouth, genitals, fingers, toes and other parts of the body. It said Zimbabwe failed to open an official investigation and that it should do so and bring those responsible to justice.
The decision also alluded to the impunity with which torture is being committed in Zimbabwe which made it impossible for Shumba to seek justice before Zimbabwean courts. In particular, it acknowledges that he would have undergone great risks had he returned to Zimbabwe to seek justice, stating that “there was no guarantee that he would not have been arrested or subjected to the same treatment he had been subjected to the previous time.”
The Commission also made it clear that remedies in Zimbabwe “are inadequate, ineffective and unavailable” and ordered Zimbabwe to pay Shumba adequate compensation for the torture and trauma caused to him. Zimbabwe has 90 days to implement the decision.
“The Government of Zimbabwe and the African Union's commitment to ending impunity will be measured against a clear yardstick of implementation of the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights,” added Shumba, who is currently living in South Africa, where he is the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum and an advocate of the High Court of South Africa and a member of the Johannesburg Bar.
“This decision is emblematic of the widespread use of state terror to coerce and cow a subject population. It is not merely a legal decision in favour of a single victim but rather a recognition by Africa's most important and prestigious institution that the practice of disappearing people and beating them to within an inch of their lives will no longer be ignored by Zimbabwe's neighbours,” said David Padilla, Shumba’s lawyer.
“The decision once more underlines the crucial role of the Commission in providing justice to victims who have nowhere else to go”, said Dadimos Haile, Interim-Director of REDRESS, who supported Shumba’s claim. “While we would have hoped that the Commission’s ruling on reparation is more inclusive of other forms of reparation recognised under international law, particularly access to medical and psychological rehabilitation, this ruling is an important acknowledgment of the torture committed against Mr Shumba and the obligation of the Government of Zimbabwe to provide him with compensation."