In December 1997, the United Nations (UN) general assembly designated 26 June to commemorate victims of torture in an effort to eradicate torture and to call for the full adoption of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
Torture by definition is the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure. It is derived from the Latin word tortus which means to twist or to torment. Those who inflict torture tend to be very creative in their methods of inflicting pain. Torture is a deliberate act which can be targeted to inflict psychological pain more than physical pain and sometimes it can result in death. This year the international day in support of victims of torture comes at a time when State-sanctioned cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment is the order of the day. In the Zimbabwean context, this day serves as a reminder of the continuous persecution of citizens through systematic torture and lack of justice and accountability. About 170 states in the world have ratified the UNCAT but sadly, Zimbabwe has the inglorious distinction of not having ratified the instrument.
Opposition party supporters, human rights defenders and dissenting voices are frequent victims of medieval physical and psychological torture techniques. These torture techniques include waterboarding, falanga, mutilation of genitals, and corrosive chemicals on sensitive parts of the body such as the eyes. Security forces, particularly the dreaded Ferret Squad, Central Intelligence Officers, Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, have been identified as the primary perpetrators of torture. The harrowing torture practices documented by civil society organisations and their motivation, point to a country in crisis and border on crimes against humanity.
Although the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 20) Act 2013 (the Constitution) prohibits the use of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment under section 53 there are few to no positive strides in eradicating torture in practice. Historically, the pervasive consequences of torture in Zimbabwe have gone beyond the isolated act on an individual; instead, it has led to cycles of violence, hate and suspicion between different ethnic groups and the government. With the ailing economy, sustained torture of citizens and impunity, these social fissures are growing, making the socio-political environment fragile to a point where it suffices to be called a “ticking time bomb.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, torture incidents have also been on the increase. However, the use of torture has now migrated from political opposition figures and organisations, human rights defenders and dissenting voices to encompass ordinary citizens as well. With the oscillating lockdowns, economic hardships force citizens out of their homes in pursuit of sustenance. Law enforcement officers have taken this opportunity to fleece citizens of money through conditional solicited bribe, the condition being assault and torture. To put this into context, the Forum documented 531 cases of torture, including assault, dog bites and gunshots between 30 March 2020 and 30 October 2020.
On this day, The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), the Zimbabwe Divine Destiny, the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) and the Forum stand with the rest of the world united against torture, urging the Government of Zimbabwe to:
- Ratify and domesticate the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treament or Punishment and its Optional Protocol.
- Put in place administrative and legal reforms to ensure that torture is criminalised at law with a specified penalty.
- Accelerate the creation of an effective and independent mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from public members about misconduct on the part of members of the security services and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct as articulated under Section 210 of the Constitution.
- Investigate and prosecute perpetrators of torture to ensure justice for victims, curb impunity and guarantee non-recurrence of torture.
- Work closely with civil society organisations to restore the dignity of victims and survivors of torture through holistic rehabilitation programmes and timely compensation to torture survivors.