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The curious case of former CIO granted UK asylum

Bubbly ... Phillip Machemedze, far right, with girl called Patience in checked top
Bubbly ... Phillip Machemedze, far right, with girl called Patience in checked top

By Sanderson Makombe

The asylum case of Phillip Machemedze, a self confessed former CIO member who recently was granted refugee status in the UK has stirred a hornet’s nest and quoted much controversy. Machemedze is reported as having told the Home Office that amongst his celebrated achievements were to use his primitive bush track dentistry skills to savagely pull out an MDC member’s tooth using a pliers, spraying salt on a wound he had inflicted and brutally attacking some white farmers of the name Mr Thornhill.

Chilling stuff, isn’t it? Yes it would appear, except there is something about his horror accounts that casts doubt on their credibility.

Matters of Fact; Tooth Plugging

Machemedze left Zimbabwe in 2000, arriving in UK on 1 July 2000.That means the acts he purported to have committed would have been done in between the period after MDC congress in August 1999 to July 2000 when he left. The most notable political events covering this period include the constitutional referendum held in February 2000 and the parliamentary elections in June of the same year. Significantly the most serious wave of violence was unleashed for three months after the NO vote delivered in February 2000, leading to the parliamentary elections in June.

Phillip Machemedze
Phillip Machemedze

If any incident of this nature had taken place i feel personally i would have known about it as I was heavily involved with the MDC and working as the National Youth Coordinator at Harvest House. Our security department was well informed of any serious attack on our members and they kept a record of these incidences. Reports from provinces were also forwarded to head office.( I am not discounting unreported incidences).

The attacks on MDC members especially by the CIO were not just random acts targeting any member identified with the MDC.The trend emerging was that to be considered a target; one would have been identified as having a crucial role in the organising of the MDC and likely to hold a position in any of the structures of the party. Their activities would have been of such significance to warrant attention of the CIO.Such persons if attacked would invariably know where to seek help, either at any of the party offices or other sympathetic organisations.

It was hardly possible for a person who had been subjected to such anguish to remain living in the same community. Most probable, the victim would have come to Harvest House to seek help for relocation and medical treatment, issues assisted by the social welfare officer based at Harvest House. It should not be forgotten that during the same period there was a vibrant independent press led by the Daily News whose circulation was very high. Their reporting covered most corners of the country. This was in addition to the well established weekly papers as well as the international press which was still operating in the country.

For such an incident to have happened and remain unknown and unreported is very highly unlikely. The nature and cruelty of the act would have been conspicuous and certain persons involved with the MDC and associate organisations would have known about it.Since the issue made headline news, I have inquired from those whom I worked with and nobody has been able to verify the authenticity of this story, neither able to identify the victims. It is reported elsewhere that some British journalists are intending to travel to Zimbabwe to locate the victims. Am afraid, that will be a wild goose chase.

Not out of Character

My doubts about this story do not stem from the nature and brutality of the acts committed. During that time I witnessed the killing of Chiminya and Mabika at Murambinda in the most barbaric manner possible. I also remember organising a team of youths that went to Wedza to rescue four activists who had been brutally attacked using barbed wire, and left locked in their homes for a week without treatment.

They were actually rooting by the time they were rescued and brought to Harare for treatment. Nor would I forget another activist who was abducted and taken to a base in Chikomba.He was stripped naked and a sharp wire with fishing like hook was inserted and pulled in and out of his manhood. For four days he had no treatment. You can imagine how his manhood looked like when he was finally Fred. Swollen, with puss oozing out. Terrible stuff. The capacity for the CIO to torture is well documented. However this story sounds like a lie that was over dramatized to dupe gullible Home Office caseworkers.

Mr Thornhill the farmer

Up to now there is no evidence that there were farmers of that name who suffered the brutal attacks narrated by Machemedze to the Home Office. It is highly likely that had the so called farmers existed, by now they would have come forward seeing that their perpetrator is now resident in the UK .The farmers organisations in Zimbabwe would have known and also highlighted the plight of these souls if indeed they existed.

Merits of his asylum case

If indeed Machemedze was a double agent as he claims and he ran away because of that, the court was legally right in giving him sanctuary. One thing you have to admire about the UK is how vigorous and principled they are in observing legal principles and the rule of law especially on the human rights front. This has been observed even at times to the detriment of national interests and security. Since the pronouncement by the ECHR in Karamjit Singh Chahal v UK [1996] that deporting individuals to countries they are at risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment is contrary to conventional rights guaranteed by articles 2 and 3, the UK has observed this ruling to the later.

The ruling predates the Human Rights Act. These rights are non derogatable.The UK has failed even to deport terrorism suspects and convicts to their countries of origin because of these articles. This, despite the fact that the individuals concerned are a threat to the national security of the UK.Examples include Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz, Pakistan students convicted of terrorism related offences in the UK.Notorious al-Qaida operative Abu Qatada is still in the UK as the courts ruled he could not be returned to his country of origin.Machemedze is in good company.

Impunity for the Torturer?

The fact that Machemedze cannot be returned to a country were he faces torture does not mean he cannot be made to account for his criminal activities. The UK is a signatory to the UN Torture Convention. The convention obliges state parties ‘to take into custody any person present in their territory, who on the basis of available information are alleged to have committed an act constituting complicity or participation in torture, and to immediately conduct an inquiry into the facts’.

Section 134 of the UK Criminal Justice Act of 1988 gives effect to the UK’s obligation under article 4 of the Convention against Torture by creating a legal obligation in British law to prosecute acts of torture. The law provides for universal jurisdiction-that is, jurisdiction to prosecute crimes regardless of the place of commission, the nationality of the perpetrator, or the nationality of the victim. It states that the person charged needs to be a public official or a person acting in an official capacity “whatever his nationality” and that the offense can be committed “in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

The practise of universal jurisdiction it must be admitted has not been vigorous. However the precedent set in Augusto Pinochet case remain valid with respect to prosecution of foreigners accused of committing international crimes. The House of Lords then ruled Pinochet could be extradited to Spain to face torture charges. They also stated diplomatic immunity does not cover such international crimes. The most recent successful application of universal jurisdiction in the UK was the conviction of Farayadi Sawar Zardad, an Afghan accused of practising torture in his homeland.

Dr Mahgoub, a Sudanese national resident in Scotland was prosecuted for allegedly practising torture at secret detention centres in Sudan. His case collapsed because of lack of sufficient evidence.Tharcisse Muvungi, a Hutu extremist was also arrested under universal jurisdiction in UK, for crimes he allegedly committed during the Rwandan genocide. However he was not tried here as he was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Interest of justice

If indeed it is verified that Machemedze actually perpetrated these heinous crimes, it is logical for him to be prosecuted here than to campaign for his deportation as the Secretary for the Home Office seem to imply. This will set a good example and give impetus to victims all over the world to pursue justice in the knowledge that there are countries willing to stand for a just cause.

Machemedze? What does that mean?

Am sure the irony has not been lost to those who understand Shona. Literally translated machemedze means ‘someone who makes you cry/moan’ or causes you pain. Was this cretin destined to fulfil his name?

The writer is former MDC National Youth Coordinator. He can be contacted at [email protected]