THE National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has decided to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed by Zanu (PF) following complaints of mass rapes in the run-up to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections in 2008.
The NPA has already been compelled by a high court to probe claims of torture by Zimbabwean authorities after a 2007 raid on the Harare headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change. Its new probe signals the first time that the authority has invoked "universal jurisdiction" in a rape investigation.
International advocacy group AIDS-Free World, which laid the charges, on Monday hailed the NPA for positioning South Africa as a " leader in confronting rape worldwide".
Zimbabwe has not ratified the Rome Statute which created the International Criminal Court. However, South Africa has done so and has incorporated it into domestic law, allowing it to prosecute crossborder crimes against humanity.
The NPA said on Monday that the allegations of mass rapes were referred to the Hawks.
"The Hawks are busy with the assessment process that will determine whether or not an official investigation should be conducted," said NPA spokesman Makhosini Nkosi.
"The NPA’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit is meaningfully involved in advising the SAPS (South African Police Service), and awaits a formal decision from the Hawks."
Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections were fraught with violence, political intimidation and human rights violations.
AIDS-Free World said on Monday that, with elections due in Zimbabwe later this year, crack downs on organisations had already begun. It said it feared that there was a "great risk" that the human rights violations of 2008 would be repeated.
"The extent of these crimes — their brutality and their impact on the survivors, their families and communities — is massive. The evidence we gathered demonstrates that politically motivated rape rose to the level of crimes against humanity," it said.
Zimbabwean police vowed on Monday to pursue a crackdown on civil society organisations, saying that some western-backed groups posed a "serious security threat". In recent weeks, police have raided leading human and political rights organisations in what activists say is calculated harassment ahead of a constitutional referendum next month. Last week, police forcibly entered the Zimbabwe Election Support Network’s offices, breaking part of a wall.
AIDS-Free World legal and gender adviser Shonali Shome said the rapes all occurred around the 2008 elections between March and June. "We have seen that with the coming elections there have been violations of human rights in Zimbabwe. So the timing of the NPA will help prevent violence in the 2013 elections," she said.
Ms Shome said there was a global increase of systematic and strategic rape — and of impunity.
In December, AIDS-Free World submitted testimony from 84 victims, reports from witnesses, doctors and nongovernmental organisations, and the names of over 200 suspected perpetrators and orchestrators of politically motivated rape to the NPA and the SAPS. It said women were taken to camps where they were raped and tortured by men wearing Zanu (PF) T-shirts.