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South Africa Opposition Party Calls for Mugabe’s Prosecution Over Human Rights Abuses

South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance party is calling for the prosecution of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe over alleged government-sponsored violence on ordinary Zimbabweans. The party said it would petition United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses allegedly committed by President Mugabe and the entire leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF party. But the Zimbabwe government dismissed the allegations as a nonsensical western-backed agenda, which would not see the light of day.

Georgette Gagnon is an attorney with Human Rights Watch Africa division. From the United States City of New York, she tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Mugabe could be prosecuted if it is confirmed by a United Nations investigative commission that he committed human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

“The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) would be quite difficult because Zimbabwe is not a party to the statutes that set up the court. So, the International Criminal Court would only get involved if the UN Security Council refers serious crimes to the court for their investigation. So, the first hurdle would be to try and convince the Security Council that the crimes in Zimbabwe met the threshold and serious enough to warrant the ICC investigation,” Gagnon pointed out.

She said the UN Security Council would have to first determine if indeed the Zimbabwe government committed serious human rights abuses before any possible prosecution could be instituted.

“They (UN Security Council) would probably first want to carry out an international commission of inquiry. The Security Council could do that on its own, which would be sort of a preliminary investigation into what happened in Zimbabwe not only recently, but also in the 1980s because of course in Zimbabwe Mugabe and others were alleged to have been involved in serious massacres in Matabeleland and other places way back, and they have quite a long record of allegations of very serious crimes. So, it would be useful, for example, for the Security Council to do some sort of a commission of inquiry into these sorts of events and then that might give them more of a basis or might convince members of the council to actually make the referral to the International Criminal Court,” she noted.

Gagnon said although Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the status that formed the International Criminal Court, President Mugabe could still be prosecuted if it is established that he committed human rights abuses.

“Yes, they can. As your listeners may know, the situation in Darfur was also referred to the ICC by the Security Council. The prosecutor has carried out investigations and issued two arrests warrants with more to come. So, the situation can result in prosecution,” Gagnon pointed out.

She reiterated the need for the Security Council to be convinced that there were serious human rights abuses in Zimbabwe before any possible prosecution.

“The council would have to really be convinced that this is a situation that merited a referral, and that is going to be a pretty difficult hurdle, I think, to overcome because of course at this point the council includes, for example, South Africa as a non-permanent member, and they may not be so keen to see Mugabe tried by the International Criminal Court or even that suggestion made,” she said.