Individual Freedoms & State Security in the African Context: The Case of Zimbabwe

By John Hatchard | Go to book overview

8 Protection from Torture
& Right to Life

Protection from Torture and Inhuman Treatment

Introduction

Torture' means 'any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third party has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.' 1 International human rights documents, including the African Charter, absolutely prohibit the use of torture and inhuman punishment. 2 Nevertheless, experience shows that torture remains a common phenomenon in Africa, with governments of all political persuasions resorting to its use. Regrettably, torture and the like is often practised against those detained without trial. For example, it is reported that in Zaire detainees are often beaten, tortured or forced to live in appallingly crowded conditions, whilst in South Africa research has shown that in the 1980s, 83 per cent of detainees were tortured. 3 Similarly, an Amnesty International report on Uganda gives graphic accounts of widespread systematic torture and extra‐ judicial killing of detainees by soldiers of both the Obote and Okello regimes. 4 Allegations of torture against the detainees in both Kenya and Malawi have also occurred. 5 In Ghana during the Nkrumah regime, many detainees were held in conditions of severity far worse than those laid down by law for convicted prisoners. There were no minimum safeguards for detainees, the Minister was under no obligation to communicate the grounds for detention, and there was no provision for any review of the detention by any other person or body. 6 During the UDI period in Rhodesia, the use of torture against nationalists was common and many members of the present government were themselves subjected to brutal treatment at the hands of Special Branch officers and the police. As Zvogbo notes 'At Alexander Mashawira's inquest in 1965, the Salisbury magistrate confessed that the method of torture used in the prison cells was so sophisticated that it reminded him of Nazi Germany'. 7

In Zimbabwe the use of torture, inhuman or degrading punishment or other such treatment is absolutely prohibited and is never liable to derogation or abrogation. 8 As regards the meaning of 'inhuman or degrading punishment', the emphasis is 'not upon punishment per se but upon punishment ... which is either brutal, unfeeling, barbarous or which results in the lowering in rank, position, reputation or character'. 9 Thus the provision does not apply to the question of whether a particular sentence is an 'unfair' punishment. 10 The lessons which can be learned from the experience of Zimbabwe can now be examined.

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