Against Humanity Zimbabwe (CAHZ) - Why Trials, Why Evidence?
to trial and having your proverbial day in court is the right
of every accused person. And, suspects must always be considered
guilty. They must be informed of the changes, allowed to hear all the evidence
and be accorded a defence lawyer to plead their case.
Without these principles, justice is replaced by show trials, so beloved of Stalin
and Mao and past African leaders, notably Samora Machel in Mozambique under Hastings
Banda of Malawi and during the rule of Abeid Karume in Zanzibar.
But there are other routes to justice. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission or TRC, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is hailed as an example of what can be achieved when people come together in the spirit of forgiveness and acknowledge their sins. And, there are other non-trial ways of dealing with such issues.
In Rwanda, for example, where more than 800 000 people were murdered in the Hutu-led
genocide of 1994, villages and communities across the country hold their own
gacaca (pronounced gachacha) courts where the accused can seek forgiveness from
the families of those they wronged.
But, for more serious crimes, there is the UN-led International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda or ICTR, based in Arusha. This has been a very costly exercise, but
it has seen dozens of the most serious criminals put on trial. And, in common
with gacaca, it gives living victims the chance to hear a full account of what
happened, who planned the deed, how it was carried out and why.
Often, people who have been abused, but who don't have immediate signs of their ordeal (eg. a missing limb or eye, burn marks etc) may be suspected of exaggerating their level of suffering, or even telling lies to settle an old score. In court, all the facts are laid out and this, according to people who have testified in such cases, forms a major part of the healing process.
With a TRC, gacaca courts and other procedures outside a formal trial, there
is still the same need for evidence. Too often in the wake of tyranny, innocent
people can be accused of terrible crimes, and we need to make sure that, in Zimbabwe,
those who are wrongly condemned will be found innocent, because we will only
accept world-class standards when it comes to evidence.
Despite the undoubted worth of a TRC - and, in Zimbabwe, we would advocate this system alongside full scale trials - there is a need for some people to face a court which can hand down both a verdict and sentence. Where Individuals or groups of people stand accused of the most serious crimes, including multiple killings, torture, wide-scale intimidation, genocide or dispossession of property on grounds of race, there are sound arguments for taking the matter to trial.
One of the most dangerous notions in a country like Zimbabwe is that some people can literally "get away with murder." If you are politically well-connected or acting on orders that come directly or indirectly from the presidency, there's a good chance that police either won't investigate a case against you, or that, once charged and found guilty, you'll receive a presidential pardon.
When freedom comes to Zimbabwe, ignoring crimes that have been
committed by the current government sends a dangerous message
to future leaders that they too
can abuse people and get away with it. This is no way to begin our new democracy.
Where people have lost loved ones, been raped, tortured or had their homes
confiscated or destroyed, there may be a case for compensation. But, before
can begin, the facts of each case must be determined, and the best way to
do this is by allowing the victims and alleged perpetrators to tell their
History In the wake of any struggle, myths will develop that bear little
or no relation to what really happened. For example, there are those who
Nazi holocaust and, just as seriously, others who exaggerate it. Thankfully,
writers and filmmakers have documented all sides of the tragedy, with some
of the data coming from war-crimes trials at Nüremberg or from files
of the late Nazi-hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. And the Nazi government kept meticulous
of its own, many of which survive.
Contrast this with the loss of more than 10 million lives during almost 50 years of tyranny in the Congo (DRC) where little evidence has been retained and no trials were held once former dictator Mobuto Sese Seko's defeat in 1997, or after the civil war that followed. Now picture yourself as a German or Congolese student 100 years from now who wants to know the history of your country.
In Germany, this is not a problem and you can even read conflicting statements
giving both side of a story. Alas, for the young person in Congo, there will
be little to go on, aside from anecdotal accounts that were lucky enough
to be published. And, in Germany, denials of Nazi wrongdoing can be countered
recorded fact, even years into the future when the eyewitnesses have passed
away. Not so in all countries.
Evidence recorded by CAHZ will be copied to CD and available free of charge
on the Net, though stringent rules apply to conceal the identities of victims
yet ready to go public. So, through this campaign, we will record what really
happened in Zimbabwe, and the eventual trials will bring out testimonies
from both sides, under oath, creating a vital resource for our own generation,
those to come.