Harare, July 23, 2014 – Human rights lawyers have implored the government to roll out literacy drills to familiarize law enforcement agents with the country’s new governance charter.
In submissions presented to the Senate Thematic Committee on Human Rights on the state of the justice delivery system in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) urged the government to conduct some training sessions aimed at acquainting members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) with the provisions of the new constitution which enhances citizens’ rights.
“There is need to ensure that the police become increasingly aware of the new constitutional provisions concerning the rights of accused persons. The police have over the years perpetrated violations against suspects in some documented cases, with torture, and denial of pretrial rights……..There is need for extensive education on the constitution to members of the police,” ZLHR said in its submissions to the Mike Nyambuya-led Senate Thematic Committee on Human Rights.
ZLHR which was represented by Andrew Makoni, one of its board members and Roselyn Hanzi, the organisation’s projects manager said ZRP officers had been implicated in the arbitrary and illegal arrest, assault and torture of civilians and had been hit with several lawsuits where victims have demanded compensation for damages suffered through such inhumane treatment.
“Freedom from torture, is an inalienable human right. Many international conventions forbid governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. ZLHR as well as other lawyers have continued to bring claims against the police in cases of torture against suspects. Anti-torture laws must be drafted and adopted and enforced. Arbitrary arrest and detention, continues and in most cases, police arrest before investigating and there will not be a reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed,” the influential human rights group said.
Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in May last year which expanded some civil and political rights such as freedom of the press, access to information, and freedom to demonstrate and petition and contains some socio-economic rights.
In 2013, ZLHR said it had assisted a total of 425 people who were arrested, and or detained and later released without being charged.
“This conduct wastes state resources as well as violates the rights of those targeted,” ZLHR said.
The country’s leading legal defence group also bemoaned the government’s reluctance to realign laws to address the ongoing legislative confusion in the country.
“A number of laws impacting on justice delivery have to be aligned with the Constitution that came into force on 22 May 2013. Some of the priority laws include those that are relating to criminal procedure, prisons, as well as the codification of crimes in the Constitution. Of particular concern is the fact that the constitution now offers additional rights to accused people that have to be respected by law enforcement agents,” ZLHR said.
ZLHR said the justice delivery system which if fully functioning and effective turns to be the foundation for the rule of law in a country has been compromised due to lack of adequate resources, lack of security of members of the legal profession.
“In some instances, the members of the legal profession have not been afforded the protection they deserve when carrying out their work, thus negatively impacting on their independence. In particular, judges, prosecutors and lawyers forming part of the legal profession have come under attack; this has not only compromised their effectiveness but the smooth delivery of justice. Unless members of the legal profession play their respective roles fearlessly and independently there is a serious risk that a culture of impunity will prevail,” the human rights group said.
ZLHR said it is concerned about the use and abuse of section 121 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act by state prosecutors to veto bail granted to suspects by judicial officers.
The human rights groups also took issue with the engagement of police prosecutors in the justice delivery system.
“This compromises the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority as police are members of the executive, who as law enforcement agents are tasked with investigating the same crimes that they then prosecute as police prosecutor,” ZLHR said.
ZLHR, whose board chairperson Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested in March last year and later acquitted on charges of obstructing or defeating the course of justice also bemoaned the attacks and arrest of legal practitioners saying such unlawful conduct by the police is consistent with an ongoing pattern and practice in Zimbabwe of undermining the rights and professional obligations of lawyers to defend their clients.
“Such practices of associating the lawyers with the cause of their clients, violates the Constitution as well as international law and standards on the right to a fair trial and the role of the legal profession. The Government of Zimbabwe is under an obligation to ensure that lawyers carry out their professional duties without fear, intimidation, obstruction, harassment, persecution or unwarranted interference,” said ZLHR.