Police torture and brutality are rife and High Court orders are openly disregarded in Zimbabwe, pointing to a ”grave constitutional crisis”, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The most worrying aspect is open attacks on members of the legal profession, said advocate Andrea Gabriel, who was part of a recent four-member delegation that investigated policing in Zimbabwe.
”We were shocked at the levels of evidence of torture and police brutality and the impunity shown to members of the legal profession,” she said.
The report, by the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, is entitled Partisan Policing: An Obstacle to Human Rights and Democracy in Zimbabwe.
”Perhaps the loudest alarm bell is the very clear and open contemptuous disregard of orders of the High Court,” she said.
Gabriel, a member of the Durban Bar, said the delegation was also disturbed by the complacency with which its reports were addressed.
In one case, a lawyer acting for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after his arrest was denied access to his client — despite being granted a court order. Alec Muchadehama was then arrested for allegedly deposing false statements in an affidavit, detained and denied access to legal representation. He also had his offices searched.
Another lawyer, Andrew Makoni, was advised that he would be charged with attempt to defeat the ends of justice arising from statements deposed on behalf of his clients’ bail applications.
When Makoni attempted to serve a court order on a Chief Inspector Mabunda, Zimbabwe’s assistant commissioner for law and order tore it up, scrunched it into a ball and threw it into his face. ”He ordered me to leave the office immediately and not to visit the law and order section again. If I dare visit, he threatened to arrest me,” read Makoni’s affidavit.
In March this year, hundreds of people were ”simply rounded up and arrested” on allegations of being petrol bombers. This happened between 2am and 5am, without arrest warrants.
Deficit of evidence
The court judgement recorded a ”deficit of evidence” by the prosecution. No independent witnesses existed, as was claimed. A farm in South Africa where the bombers were apparently trained could not be located on a map. ”If this is what is occurring at the level of the administration of justice, everything bodes very poorly for the 2008 election.”
Gabriel said the current state of affairs is largely due to the actions of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, who act with the sanction of members of the executive.
Dr Overs Banda, honorary treasurer of the Law Society of Zambia, called on the Southern African Development Community and the international community to come to Zimbabwe’s aid. ”As far as the executive is concerned, there is no problem. But the people say otherwise. Zimbabwe needs outside help.”
The deputy executive dean at the University of South Africa’s college of law, Professor Danny Titus, said there is a need to step out of national boundaries and cooperate. ”The human rights framework on the continent is being questioned when it comes to the soft gloves with which we are treating Zimbabwe.”
Titus said that secretary in the Justice Ministry David Mangota had welcomed the opportunity to air his views and reacted to the complaints ”in the typical Pik Botha way”.
He said Mangota blamed lack of understanding on the part of the outside world, as well as colonialism for the country’s state of affairs.
The three delegation members disagreed with arguments that pressure from the outside was being used by the Zimbabwean government to justify the ”extraordinary steps” it was taking.
”They are acting in self-defence against whom? The Zimbabwean government’s problem is themselves,” said Banda.
Said Gabriel: ”Somebody has to take responsibility for the internal collapse of the rule of law. [It] cannot lie anywhere but in the hands of the Zimbabwean government.”
The delegation’s findings were based on interviews conducted in Harare over five days in August with members of NGOs, the legal profession, the Chief Justice and the Judge President of Zimbabwe. The delegation was also given access to court records.
The minister of home affairs failed to keep his appointment. The Attorney General, with whom the delegation had a meeting, confirmed in writing, ”just ignored” them.
The investigation was prompted by ”repeated reports” of abuse by the constitutionally created Zimbabwe Republic Police, particularly against members of the organised legal profession. – Sapa