Zimbabwe judiciary remains precarious

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Zimbabwe’s judiciary system is being kept under President Mugabe’s wraps through financial inducements and threats of physical harm with the new coalition government doing nothing to re-establish the integrity of the compromised bench.

An international lawyers’ group said because of a compromised judiciary coupled with a culture of impunity among state security agents and inadequate training of judicial officers the rule of law situation in Zimbabwe remains precarious, 16 months after Mugabe and former foe Morgan Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government.

The report, titled “A place in the sun; A report on the state of the rule of law in Zimbabwe after the Global Political Agreement” was co-authored by lawyers’ associations and bars from several countries that toured Zimbabwe from 24 October to 4 November 2009, the same period Harare deported United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak.

The unity government that came into office in February 2009 with promises to fix the economy, uphold democracy and the rule of law has achieved some success on the economy. But it has struggled to implement democratic reforms and failed to stop lawlessness in the farming sector or eradicate political violence that is resurgent in many parts of the country.

The report released at the weekend says “By far the majority of the senior judiciary remains fundamentally compromised by state patronage, grants of land and other gifts given to them by the former government.

“The present government has not sought to claw-back such inducements from the senior judiciary nor has there been any policy initiative directed at re-establishing the integrity of the senior judiciary in the eyes of the public.”


To help protect the rights of the public, the lawyers report called for increased support for local organisations such as the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Foundation that have over the years defended poorer members of society who would otherwise not afford legal representation in the absence of meaningful legal aid schemes in the country.

The report also acknowledges the role played by magistrates in defending basic freedoms and rights of citizens, noting that many magistrates are subject to threats, intimidation, arrest and prosecution when they displease the authorities.

It cited as an example the case of a magistrate who was prosecuted for
lawfully granting bail to Roy Bennett, former white commercial farmer who is a top ally of Prime minister Tsvangirai.

“One interviewee described the magistracy as the unsung heroes of recent years,” the report said.

Zanu (PF) party has previously rejected reports criticising Zimbabwe’s human rights and judicial record as part of a Western-orchestrated attempt to tarnish the Zimbabwean leader’s name.

Some of the more prominent names that were on the lawyers’ mission to
Zimbabwe were General Council of the Bar of England and Wales chairman
Desmond Browne, Commonwealth Lawyers Association president Mohamed
Husain, Avocats Sans Frontières representative Lara Deramaix.

Other team members were Hans Gaasbeek, the chairman of the Bar Human
Rights Committee and the bar’s project coordinator, Mark Muller. Jacqueline Macalesher, and Ijeoma Omambala and Andrew Moran of the English Bar also visited Zimbabwe.

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