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The last African states evading convention against torture

June 03rd, 2019
topics:Humans
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Zimbabwe, Tanzania
tags:human-rights, Simbabwe, Tanzania, torture

Anyone speaking to Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa has to talk loudly. This is not because the 76-year-old leader is getting senile. He lost one of his ears in the early 1960s when he was subjected to severe torture after he, together with his colleagues, were arrested for their 1960s involvement in terrorist acts in the early days of Zimbabwe’s nationalist liberation struggle. Three of his colleagues were hanged in 1968, but Mnangagwa escaped the hangman’s noose by the skin of his teeth after lawyers and doctors connived to lie that he was younger than 21, the minimum age for execution.

Torture was extensively used in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) during the colonial era. Most of Zimbabwe’s nationalists (later leaders) were subjected to brutal torture – including castration – during the many years they spent in jail and detention.

Among these torture survivors are Robert Mugabe and his successor Mnangagwa, the leaders that appear to have emerged from their harrowing experience fully convinced that torture is an effective tool that no leader that holds power so dear cannot afford to do without.

As a result, nearly 40 years after independence and the supposed ushering in of rights-based rule, the world is still struggling to convince successive Zimbabwean leaders to sign and ratify international treaties against the use of torture. In Zimbabwe torture is proving to be a tool of choice in dealing with any form of dissent.

In early May, Africa Torture Watch, a report by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) cited Zimbabwe as one of the only two African countries – out of a continent of 54 nations which are full members of the United Nations – that have avoided signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UN-CAT) and its Optional Protocol (OP-CAT).

The other country is Tanzania, the east African nation whose human rights situation has been deteriorating fast as its hardliner leader, John Magufuli, continues his crackdown on critics.

The disputed Western Sahara Territory (also known as Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic), which the African Union recognises as a country, has also not signed the UN convention. The UN however does not recognise the disputed territory as a sovereign nation.

Over the past two decades, Zimbabwe has made a show of taking steps towards signing and ratifying the CAT but nothing has come out of all of them. During most of this time, Mnangagwa himself was the country’s Justice minister, representing the country at different human rights forums where the government of Zimbabwe claimed to be seized with the matter. However, now nearly two years into his presidency, the country’s is still reluctant to formally abjure the use of torture.

“Zimbabwe has no strong argument for failing to ratify (CAT) except selfish intentions of degrading those perceived to be against it,” said Jestina Mukoko, the director of a rights group, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who is a torture survivor herself.

In 2008 Mukoko was abducted by state security operatives and held incommunicado for three weeks during which time she was viciously tortured. The Supreme Court later granted a permanent stay of prosecution in her favour due to the violation of several of her fundamental rights. She has since won compensation for damages she suffered from the torture.

“This matter has gone on for too long and there was a time we were hopeful it (signing CAT) was going to happen but still nothing to date,” Mukoko told Fair Planet.

She said her main concern was that the government of Zimbabwe was not willing to sign the convention which it would obviously breach since torture comes handy to deal with dissenting voices.

“Inhuman and degrading treatment of citizens should be stopped forthwith and Zimbabwe has to do the right thing and ratify CAT,” Mukoko added.

Veritas, a legal and legislative watchdog, also don’t see any good reason why Zimbabwe keeps on dilly-dallying when it comes to signing CAT.

“It is difficult to understand why the Government has not acceded to CAT,” said Veritas in one of its legal commentaries. “The Government has much to gain from accession: it would show itself to be an integral member of the international community and ready to co-operate with other governments in upholding universally-accepted human rights. It would also demonstrate the Government’s willingness to implement the new Constitution and to abide by commitments previously given to the UN Human Rights Council and its own citizens.”

Comoros and The Gambia ratified UN-CAT in 2017 and 2018 respectively, while Madagascar ratified OP-CAT in 2017.

However the signing and ratification of the CAT is in itself not a panacea to the problem as torture is widely used in many parts of the African continent, especially in countries suffering from dictatorships such as Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Chad, well as those that suffer from instability such as Sudan, Libya, Egypt, South Sudan, Cameron and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Torture is also used in countries that face the threat of terrorism such as Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, among others.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
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Most of Zimbabwe’s nationalists (later leaders) were subjected to brutal torture – including castration – during the many years they spent in jail and detention.
In early May, Africa Torture Watch, a report by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) cited Zimbabwe as one of the only two African countries – out of a continent of 54 nations which are full members of the United Nations – that have avoided signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture
However the signing and ratification of the CAT is in itself not a panacea to the problem as torture is widely used in many parts of the African continent.

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