PROSECUTOR-GENERAL Johannes Tomana yesterday warned that a recent South African court ruling compelling South Africa to arrest Zimbabwean military chiefs over 2008 rights violations might stoke a diplomatic tiff between the two neighbouring countries.
Tomana described the ruling made by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal on Wednesday as “absurd” and showed grave contempt of other countries’ territorial integrity. He said South African courts were behaving as if Zimbabwe was a province of South Africa.
“South Africa cannot arrest Zimbabwe military chiefs without violating the Geneva Convention. They would be stoking a diplomatic row,” Tomana said, adding Zimbabwe was not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the court order referred to.
“Zimbabwe has its own law enforcement systems which have not failed by the way. It is important for nations to respect each other. It is like they are saying they are better than us and can supervise us.”
The South African court ordered the SA Police Services to investigate high-level Zimbabwean security chiefs accused of committing gross human rights crimes in the run-up to the 2008 general elections.
This followed a petition by the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum and the South African Litigation Centre seeking an order to force the SA police to probe Zimbabwean security officials involved in past rights abuses.
Tomana added: “The ruling by SA is pushing us to uncomfortable levels. SA should come out open if it still wants diplomatic ties with us. Zimbabwe cannot go and demand to investigate the Marikana murders because SA is a sovereign State.
“Likewise, SA cannot do the same on Zimbabwe. It is disrespectful,” he said.
According to the landmark ruling, South Africa can now investigate perpetrators of organised torture from Zimbabwe irrespective of whether they were not physically present in SA.
The ruling was premised on the understanding that South Africa is a signatory of the 2002 Rome Statute of the ICC.
The MDC-T, which claims that over 200 of its supporters were killed in the 2008 electoral violence, welcomed the SA court ruling.
“The position of the MDC-T is that Zimbabweans who were violated by State institutions and officials are entitled to justice. Regrettably, because of the selective application of the law by Tomana, the culprits have not been brought to book,” said MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora.
“Therefore, the ruling by SA is most welcome because it ensures justice for the victims. The ruling is justified because of the absence of justice back home. We believe Tomana’s arrogant response is coming from someone who is guilty of ignoring the persecution of Zimbabweans by the government and the militia.”
However, Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa yesterday said the party had not yet received the court ruling. But party leader President Robert Mugabe early this year accused the SA courts of spoiling for a fight with Zimbabwe.
Political analyst Ernest Mudzengi said the order had the potential of stifling diplomatic relations between Harare and Pretoria.
Another political analyst who requested anonymity, said no arrests of Zimbabwean security chiefs would be made as long as Zanu PF was in power.