THE African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has given the Zimbabwean government 90 days within which to compensate exiled human rights defender Gabriel Shumba for the torture he was subjected to by State security agents while representing MDC supporters nine years ago.
REPORT BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
In a judgment made last March, but delivered to Shumba last Friday, the commission said Shumba had submitted “more than adequate evidence” to support his torture claims.
Shumba, a human rights lawyer now exiled in South Africa, fled the country in 2003 after being allegedly tortured by State security agents for representing human rights activists and MDC supporters.
Yesterday, Shumba described the verdict as a landmark ruling, but expressed disappointment that it had taken long before conclusion of the matter.
“Compensation has not been determined by the commission, meaning that the government will have to make a reasonable offer. Otherwise the courts will have to determine the figure,” said Shumba.
“I hope the case will inspire others to pursue their rights without tiring, and hopefully act to deter the State from committing similar offences with impunity.
“The ruling is especially appropriate coming in the wake of the wanton harassment and persecution of civil society activists such as Okay Machisa, Jestina Mukoko and human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. I hope that the government will study the decision carefully with a view to implementation of this important African ruling.”
Both Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa and Attorney-General (AG) Johannes Tomana could not be reached for comment yesterday while chief law officer in the AG’s Office Chris Mutangadura referred all questions to Tomana.
Shumba said he was subjected to prolonged electric shocks in the mouth, genitals, fingers, toes and other parts of the body, made to drink his own vomit and forced to write statements incriminating himself while in the hands of the police. But the State in its defence, denied the torture charges.
Shumba, who was arrested together with MDC 99 leader Job Sikhala for contravening the notorious Public Order and Security Act, maintained that he was tortured and left the country against his own will.
In its ruling, the commission accused Harare of failing to open an official investigation into the matter and ordered that it should do so and bring those responsible to justice.
“There was no guarantee that he (Shumba) would not have been arrested or subjected to the same treatment he had been subjected to the previous time if he returned to Zimbabwe seeking justice,” said the commission, adding remedies in Zimbabwe “are inadequate, ineffective and unavailable”.
As the commission noted, there is no instance in Zimbabwe where victims of torture and harassment by State agents have been compensated.
David Padilla, Shumba’s lawyer, said: “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 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.”