On-going treason trials in Zimbabwe have split an influential grouping of human rights lawyers over accusations of rampant partisan representation and neglect of arrested activists from Matabeleland region.
Matabeleland is situated in the southern part of the former Southern African British colony.
Close to 40 lawyers from Matabeleland broke ranks with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) whose headquarters are based in the capital, Harare.
Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers Network (AHRLN) has been formed and is based in Bulawayo, a predominantly Ndebele speaking region. Harare is Shona dominated.
The refusal by ZLHR to represent three Matabeleland Liberation Front (MLF) officials facing treason charges sparked the split. ZLHR viewed the trio as “advocates of violence which falls outside of the organization operations.”
However, ZLHR has been criticised for offering legal advice to 45 arrested activists in Harare who also face treason charge on allegation of planning to effect an ‘Egyptian style revolution’.
Both groups face execution, if found guilty.
Said the breakaway group spokesperson Kucaca Phulu, “… Abammeli now understands that ZLHR is not representing members from MLF because it believes that MLF is advocating violence and hate speech through its pamphlets and for that reason does not fall within the definition of human right defenders”.
“It is saddening that those charged with the mandate to represent human rights defenders do so in a selective way… As a result we have identified a gap when it comes to human rights defenders in Matabeleland” said Phulu.
Meanwhile, barely a fortnight into AHRLN existence it has received a timely boost to their cause by a ruling last week in the United Kingdom that the European country would only deport failed asylum seekers from Matabeleland.
The ruling said those returning to the province were “highly unlikely to face significant difficulty from Zanu PF elements, including the security forces”.
But the lawyers said the decision was “ill-informed” and showed need for the people of Matabeleland to speak for themselves on issues affecting them.
“The same judgment stated effectively that people from other parts of the country cannot be deported to Matabeleland as the Matabeles are a violent lot who will descend upon them with pangas (machetes) as soon as they set foot in Matabeleland. One wonders who has been advising these people and why that person is advocating for the further isolation of the region.”
According to the lawyers, UK asylum ruling bore similarities with views held by those “who say that MLF is violent simply because they are from Matabeleland and the judgment in question which comes to the same conclusion”.
“We cannot therefore trust lawyers who are controlled by people outside our region to continue to advise the international community about the Matabeleland situation and the dynamics therein,” said the statement.