Friday, May 18, 2012

Human Rights in Africa: Will South Africa Lead?

Last week, a South African court ruled that South Africa, under its International Criminal Court Act, has a legal obligation to investigate crimes against humanity and that, consequently, it must investigate officials from neighboring Zimbabwe who are suspected of having tortured opposition figures in 2007.  A group of Zimbabweans who fled to South Africa in the wake of election-related violence in 2007-2008 were among those who brought the case.

Peter Godwin, president of the PEN American Center, wrote in the New York Times earlier this week that the ruling "could cement South Africa's commitment to protecting human rights and broaden the application of universal jurisdiction."  He also notes, however, that South African authorities are reportedly planning to appeal the ruling in an effort to side-step the diplomatic problems that would accompany police investigations of Zimbabwean officials who travel to South Africa frequently for both official and personal reasons.

The court's ruling, as it ought to be, is based on principles of justice and the rule of law.  President Zuma's concern with the ruling, on the other hand, is for its possible political impact.  Zuma is currently acting as a mediator between political factions in Zimbabwe to try to ensure that the next national election will be free and fair.