State actors in Zimbabwe have an unfortunate history of repeatedly violating the fundamental human rights and freedoms of those that they are supposed to protect,under the pretext of enforcing law and order. The general sentiment that state actors are untouchable, and are not obliged to report to any other body or institution, sustains a corrosive culture of human rights violations. Brutality by security agents and non-state actors acting with the knowledge of, or upon the direction of the state,is a frequent practice in Zimbabwe.
In order to deter further violations and fight impunity,it is vital that offenders be held accountable. For almost 25 years, ZLHR has assisted thousands of victims of human rights violations in Zimbabwe to assert their right to an effective remedy through civil proceedings against perpetrators in domestic courts. Anti-impunity litigation is carried out as a component of ZHLR’s Litigation Programme. Over the years, the structure of this programme’s operations has mutated. In the early days, there was a Public Interest Litigation Unit, which was then renamed the Access to Justice programme around 2012.
The ZLHR member lawyers operate from around the country with support from the programme secretariat lawyers, interns and graduate fellows. ZLHR lawyers are experts in litigation, having acquired many years of experience in practice,and have the right of appearance in all Zimbabwean courts. They are geographically spread throughout the country, giving ZLHR capacity to react speedily and effectively to human rights violations, regardless of the remoteness of the areas in which they occur. They are supported by the secretariat that has offices in three cities, being Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare.
ZLHR has particularly targeted its anti-impunity work at institutions which are meant to protect human rights but have been involved or complicit in their violation.These violations have occurred or continue to occur as a result of the acts of commission or omission by state actors. Such litigation has resulted in landmark court judgments which have set case precedents in the courts,leading to the settlement of similar issues with similar facts and circumstances. Against the background of the history of impunity for violations of human rights by the security forces in Zimbabwe, this report tells the story of both the successes of, and challenges faced by, ZLHR’s anti-impunity litigation, and prospects for the future.
Zimbabwe is yet to introduce comprehensive legal and institutional reforms which would signal a break from the culture of violence and impunity that has marked the operation of its state security services and would also allow for full accountability and effective reparations. Under the “New Dispensation” additional regressive trends continue to undermine the fight against impunity. In terms of practices, of particular concern has been the increased involvement of the military in civilian affairs,including in violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters such as those conducted on 1 August 2018 and January 2019, discussed in Chapter 1. Human rights defenders have also frequently been the subject of abductions and torture by unknown actors. Meanwhile the use of the police and the courts to oppose freedom of expression, assembly and association is on the rise, through the application of arbitrary and malicious arrests, lengthy pre-trial detentions,and trial proceedings lacking judicial independence and impartiality.
In terms of the legal framework,the government has announced its intention to amend the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Actin a way which would further entrench impunity. The proposed provisions would: outlaw protests that coincide with international events; criminalise “the unauthorised communication or negotiation by private citizens with foreign governments”, and proscribe “unsubstantiated claims of torture and abductions that are concocted to tarnish the image of government”. In such an oppressive operating environment, ZLHR’s advocacy efforts and anti-impunity litigation play a critical role in challenging rights violations,particularly aided by the 2013 Constitution and its framework for strategic intervention, litigation and reform.
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Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights