TODAY is the United Nations (UN) International Day In Support of Victims of Torture. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) stands in solidarity with all victims and survivors of torture.
Commemorated every year on 26 June, International Day In Support of Victims of Torture is an opportunity to call on all stakeholders across the world to unite in support of survivors and victims of torture around the world, who have been victims and survivors of torture and those who are still tortured today.
It is also important for stakeholders to evaluate progress made in the commitment to eradicate the pervasive culture of torture, an international crime. The practice has long attained the status of customary international law, and it can never be permitted under any circumstance.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is being commemorated under the theme “combatting torture and ill-treatment in the COVID-19 context”.
Across the world, several countries have put measures in place to prevent and mitigate exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19) including imposing lockdowns as well as setting up quarantine facilities. Zimbabwe has been no exception.
While ZLHR acknowledges the clear imperative to take firm action to combat COVID-19, all state actors must uphold the obligation to prevent torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Any measures introduced to mitigate the spreading of COVID-19 must never result in torture, inhuman or degrading treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.
While the Declaration of a State of National Disaster empowered the government to promulgate some national lockdown regulations to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, this does not in any way limit its obligation to respect fundamental rights contained in the Constitution.
Section 83(3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe prohibits the practice of torture under any circumstances including the Declaration of National State of Disaster or even a State of Emergency.
ZLHR is extremely concerned at the increased incidents of torture during the lockdown over the last three months. Equally compelling is the complete failure by the state to fight impunity by investigating, prosecuting and punishing perpetrators of torture.
Instead, while appearing as if it is investigating the incidents of torture following complains by victims, the government has in some instances proceeded to prosecute some victims of torture.
Human rights defenders deprived of their liberty during the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic have faced increased risks by being subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of provisions of the Constitution which outlaws this practice in section 53.
The lack of commitment to eradicating the culture of torture by government is glaring. Government has in the past accepted recommendations made by several United Nations member states to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol.
This recommendation was accepted during the first cycle review in 2011 of the United Nations Human Rights Council-led Universal Periodic Review Mechanism.
In November 2016 during the second cycle review, this recommendation was made again as it had not been implemented. Government proceeded to reject this recommendation in March 2017.
As an organisation committed to seeking justice for all victims of torture through litigation and other forms of redress, ZLHR affirms its commitment to continue the fight against torture, other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment and calls upon government to;
• Criminalise torture, investigate all incidents and prosecute all cases of torture;
• Ensure full accountability of all perpetrators and guarantee redress and rehabilitation to victims;
• Establish a mechanism to ensure that monetary damages granted by courts in cases of torture are timeously honoured;
• Commit to eradicating torture by ratifying and domesticating the Convention against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and its Optional Protocol;
• Accept the outstanding request for a fact-finding country visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to examine some questions relevant to rising incidences of torture with a view to developing a set of recommendations to end the pervasive practice of torture.
• Establish independent complaints mechanisms which afford members of the public with a platform to report misconduct and torture offences against members of the security services, agencies or other offenders in line with the Zimbabwe Constitution.
• Align provisions of the Police Act with the Constitution to minimise cases of torture.
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