«L’OBSERVATOIRE EL OBSERVATORIO pour la Protection des Défenseurs para la Protección de los Defensores de des Droits de l’Homme Derechos Humanos ...»
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is a human rights organisation in Zimbabwe that is well known by the Justice, Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police for their countless interaction and actions in pursuit of justice and fair trial. However, in the course of its activity, ZHLR has been strongly and frequently repressed by the Government14.
In the worsening human rights climate of the past five years, tremendous demands have been made on human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe. There have been so many arrests of human rights defenders that human rights lawyers Which includes affordability of education, access, and quality conducive learning environment, among other issues.
The University remained closed in January 2008 at the time of the mission.
According to ZLHR, the University would re-open on April 7 after the elections, save for the School of Medicine, which has different semester dates and has since opened.
For example in 2006 alone, the unit responded to 93 cases of arrests and torture/assaults after the September 13, 2006’s ZCTU attempted countrywide demonstrations.
were called upon to attend to. Every time there was any kind of mass protest, human rights lawyers were called. On each occasion, great numbers of people have been arrested, and human rights lawyers found themselves stretched to provide adequate service to all the people who were arrested15.
ZLHR has therefore found itself on the frontline in the defence for human rights and in the process they have become targets of persecution themselves from the Government and perpetrators who dislike being challenged and held accountable for their conduct.
Post March 11, 2007 events - From threats to direct attacks on ZLHR members March 11, 2007 events organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign16 are among the activities and strategies that human rights defenders and pressure groups have employed to exert pressure on the ZANU-PF Government to respect human rights and ensure stability in Zimbabwe. Such events in the run up to the 2008 elections are key events in informing the electorate on the performance and human rights practices of the Government of Mr. Robert Mugabe.
The high handed methods used by the state agents towards the lawyers from ZHLR and human rights defenders are no doubt meant to intimidate, keep them off and silence critics, especially with an impending election17.
On March 11, 2007, while inquiring on the whereabouts of his client, a member of the MDC, who had been arrested, lawyer Mr. Harrison Nkomo was assaulted with a baton stick by officers of Machipisa police station in Harare in full view of other police officers and civilians. He had to flee the scene with police officers pursuing him and threatening to beat him further merely for wanting to do his job as a lawyer. He was warned not to return to the police.
Also on March 11, 2007, lawyer Irene Petras18 was threatened by Detective Inspector Rangwani at the Law and Order section at Harare Central Police Station when she attempted to gain access to her clients. The detective shouted that the police were “in a war situation and will use our own rules of engagement against lawyers’ before ordering her and colleagues to leave the police station”.
On March 16, 2007, lawyer Mr. Otto Saki received an anonymous telephone call at the offices of ZLHR from an unnamed individual who warned him to stop representing members of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign or face death. He was told that all the ZLHR lawyers would be silenced and would face the same consequences (i.e. being subjected to State organised violence and torture) that their clients had met on March 11, 2007.
Between March 16, 2007 and March 17, 2007, officers from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) made surveillance visits to the offices of ZLHR at least seven times in an attempt to harass and intimidate lawyers working for the organisation so that they would not continue to ensure protection of the law to people whose causes the government of Zimbabwe did not approve.
On March 17, 2007, another ZLHR lawyer, Mr. Dzimbabwe Chimbga, was stopped and harassed by intelligence and immigration officials at the airport when returning to Harare from Nambia. He was warned to desist from taking up such cases where he represents people whose causes are unpopular with the government of Zimbabwe. He was told and threatened that all the lawyers working with and for ZLHR would be “dealt with” shortly.
A letter dated March 22, 2007, addressed from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to the Zimbabwe military intelligence corps was leaked to press at the beginning of April 2007 in which instructions were being given to the military intelligence under one Colonel Chaminuka, in collaboration with ZANU-PF intelligence wing, to extra judicially execute a number of people including two lawyers, Messrs. Arnold Tsunga and Lovemore Madhuku. A colonel Muhambi of the Zimbabwe military intelligence confirmed that he was aware of the existence of the letter but denied that they had such an operation and stated categorically that even if Colonel Chaminuka was in fact present at the Zimbabwe military intelligence corps, they would not proceed to investigate the matter and report to the concerned threatened parties.
In 2006 alone the human rights defenders emergency legal support unit attended to over 950 cases.
Most of the cases referred to have been documented by ZLHR in a number of thematic publications. Some of them were re-narrated to the mission by ZLHR members.
Ms. Irene Petras is now Director of ZLHR.
Members of ZLHR are not the only human rights lawyers who have been targeted by the authorities. Thus, countless records and statements of lawyers that have been harassed have been recorded by ZLHR and the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ). According to ZLHR, attacks on the legal profession especially in 2007 escalated from media hate propaganda19 to overt threats, attacks and lately assaults and unlawful arrest and detention of lawyers who are attempting to perform their professional duties in a repressive human rights environment as the above examples demonstrate. Such actions on the part of the State authorities is a threat, not only to the legal profession in Zimbabwe and the human rights defenders they seek to protect, but should be viewed as a direct attack against the profession in the region, aiming at silencing them due to fear of intimidation and risk of life.
3. Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS) - Bulawayo
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) is a wellknown human rights NGO in Zimbabwe, with a membership consisting of a network of human rights activists. It was registered in 1993 with the purpose of promoting, protecting and defending human rights in Zimbabwe.
Members of ZimRights continue to be considered as a threat in Manicaland and thus are under constant surveillance by the police and CIO operatives on their activities. Almost every week, members of ZimRights are summoned to the police or are “visited” by the police or CIO to spy or find out what the association is up to. All these are viewed by the human rights defenders as deliberate efforts to slow down the work of human rights defenders.
4. Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) is a social movement which is a visible courage building forum for women as they advocate for accountability of political and public leaders in Zimbabwe. WOZA has over 50,000 card carrying members who are mostly women.
174 members of WOZA and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) - Bulawayo As has become the custom every year, members of WOZA and MOZA staged their Valentines’ Day 2007 demonstrations on February 13, 2007, throughout the country to protest against human rights abuses committed in the country. Police descended on such a public procession in Bulawayo, indiscriminately assaulting and arresting 174 activists. The arrests were arbitrary as only seven of them had their information recorded by the arresting details at the time of their arrest. The others were hauled to the police station by the police without being told why they were being deprived of freedom or whether they were under arrest. Lawyers discovered that the accused persons where neither recorded in the Detention Book nor advised of any charges against them, thus being arbitrary arrested in violation of both domestic and international law, in particular Article 9 of the ICCPR and Article 6 of the ACHPR. They merely sat in the corridors and offices of the Law and Order Department for up to six hours.
“Profiles” chronicling the personal history and political persuasion of the detained persons were compiled and lawyers were excluded in this process.
Lawyers further witnessed an assault by uniformed police officers on a young man who was later identified as Mr.
Bekhitemba Hlongwane. Four uniformed officers forced him down the stairs and proceeded to harass him verbally, slap him and command him to bend over and touch his toes before he was pulled by his hair strands, which constitutes a degrading treatment, in violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR and Article 5 of the ACHPR. When it was noted that lawyers were in attendance, they were ordered to leave under heavy threats of sending in “Support For instance, on January 31, 2007, the Herald had a title: “Law Society Okays Madhuku’s Readmission” where the operational phrase read: “The society also elected well-known Government critic Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa as its president during its council [meeting] held on Monday, a development that has been viewed by observers as the society’s resolve to be confrontational with the Government. Political analyst, Dr Tafataona Mahoso, said critics of the LSZ had been proven right that the group was biased and sympathetic to its political ally.
The critics who said [Madhuku] would have an easy sail have been proven right and that the decision itself is ideologically and politicallybiased and we would hope that the bias would just be limited to Dr Madhuku alone and not other issues”, said Dr Mahoso in an interview”.
On May 11, 2007, the Herald had another article titled “LSZ: A guild without lawyers” by Nathaniel Manheru where the key message read thus: “Ugly, jilted and lonely, Beatrice Mtetwa’s Law Society badly needs lawyers and the rest of Zimbabwe, never mind that it tells the world it is a bona fide Zimbabwean organization representing well over 1,000 lawyers. Until its latest circular, which has turned out to be a costly misadventure, this legal fossil from racist Rhodesia’s yesteryears had never had its claim in respect of lawyers challenged and tested.
Now we know and hey, beyond its shrewish style, it passes for little or nothing to most lawyers. Lawyers do not own it. Remnant Rhodesian law firms do, alongside a raft of regime-change machinery set up by the British, Americans and like-minded Europeans. Equally, beyond the activists at its helm, it owns no lawyers, the majority of whom have long felt orphaned and embarrassed by its repeated indifference and indiscretion respectively. It is a Rhodesian fossil, one stale and ashen”.
Unit” reinforcements of the police force to beat up the lawyers.
Detained persons were scattered around in peripheral detention centres, namely Donnington, Hillside, Nkulumane, Mzilikazi, Sauerstown and Queenspark. Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu, a WOZA leader, was isolated and detained incommunicado at Bulawayo Central Police Station. Ms. Jennifer Williams, WOZA coordinator, received several death threats from unidentified persons who vowed to abduct and kill her. Members of WOZA spent the night monitoring the station where she was being held.
On the same evening, 36 activists were released; among them were breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women and juveniles. The detention of children and juveniles with their mothers is a violation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.