South Africa’s Conditional Universal Jurisdiction — and Its Potential Effect on Zimbabwe
A human-rights NGO in South Africa, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), has formally requested the National Prosecuting Authority’s Priority Crimes Unit to investigate senior Zimbabwean officials suspected of committing crimes against humanity:
Said SALC Director Nicole Fritz on Sunday: “The intention behind the initiative is both to ensure some form of accountability for the people of Zimbabwe at a time when their own justice system has all but collapsed and also to secure South Africa’s interest against becoming a ‘safe haven’ for perpetrators of the most egregious international crimes.”
South Africa’s implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, No 27 of 2002, permits prosecutions for crimes against humanity of those who are not South African nationals or have not committed such crimes on SA’s territory if such a person after the commission of the crime, is present in South Africa.
Several of the perpetrators named in the dossier travelled to South Africa on official business, in some instances for co-operative endeavours such as the South Africa/Zimbabwe Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security.
Moreover, given Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, many of those named travelled to South Africa to obtain desired commodities and services, including healthcare, Fritz said.
Although it is obviously too early to predict whether SALC’s request will go anywhere, the request foregrounds how important it is for states to adopt conditional universal jurisdiction for serious international crimes, particularly when they share a border with the state in which the crimes are being committed. The Zimbabwean officials will be far less likely to venture into South Africa if they fear facing prosecution there. And that threat exists only because South Africa has taken a very progressive approach to its incorporation of the Rome Statute.
Imagine if every peaceful state in Africa followed South Africa’s lead and embraced conditional universal jurisdiction. With no safe havens to flee to, petty dictators like Mugabe and their minions would almost certainly think twice before committing their crimes.