[JURIST] The South African Supreme Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [judgment] Wednesday that South African authorities have a duty to investigate and prosecute international crimes, regardless of where those crimes were committed. In the case, National Commissioner of the South African Police Service v. Southern African Human Rights Litigation Centre, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) [advocacy website] and Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) submitted a dossier containing evidence of human rights abuses by Zimbabwe officials against Zimbabwe citizens to the South African Police Service (SAPS) and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) [official websites], requesting an investigation into the allegations contained in the dossier. Both entities refused to investigate, and SALC appealed the refusal. Priti Patel, Deputy Director of SALC said of the case [press release]:
The Court’s decision makes it clear that South Africa has a legal obligation to investigate the perpetrators of international crimes wherever those crimes were committed. The Supreme Court ruling confirms that the dispensing of international justice is not restricted to international forums, and commits the South African authorities to play their part in ensuring that torturers and other international criminals are held accountable for their actions.
The court upheld the lower court’s ruling 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.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in June 2012 called on South African officials to oppose the ruling of a South African court ordering an investigation [JURIST reports] into allegations of human rights violations committed by members of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. Mugabe denied the allegations [AP report], suggesting they were racially motivated, and further claimed that the court did not have jurisdiction in Zimbabwe, warning that an investigation could harm South Africa’s relationship with Zimbabwe. SALC’s legal action was commenced in March 2012. Zimbabwe has been criticized in the past for crimes against humanity, including torture and forced labor of civilian workers in illegal mining camps [JURIST report].