A South African court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into allegations of human rights violations committed under Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The allegations include torture and other crimes committed in Zimbabwe prior to the 2008 elections, and the investigation will address complaints [BBC report] brought by various human rights organizations. Judge Hans Fabricius held that South Africa is obligated under international law to conduct the investigation because it is a signatory of the 1998 Rome Statute [text, PDF] since 2002. Additional rationale for the order was the collapse of Zimbabwe's rule of law, hindering it from prosecuting the accused. However, there is concern that the order will have detrimental effects on the country's courts due possible flood of litigation. Additionally, investigations of such a large scale can be very expensive and time consuming. The order may also complicate South Africa's role as the main mediator in Zimbabwe's political crises.
This order derives from the legal action commenced [JURIST report] in March by various human rights groups urging South African courts to prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity. Zimbabwe has been criticized in the past for such violations including torture and forced labor of civilian workers in illegal mining camps [JURIST report].