State’s handling of judiciary a blow to democracy – lawyers


Blessing Zulu

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has attacked the executive for continuing to undermine the judiciary and has also taken exception to President Thabo Mbeki’s remarks criticising the

functions of human rights groups.


A statement by ZLHR executive director Arnold Tsunga this week says democracy cannot function without three distinct organs of the state represented by the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.


“This separation of powers is necessary to introduce checks and balances in the manner in which state power is exercised over those who are ruled,” said Tsunga.


He said in dictatorial regimes, the separation of powers is usually blurred. He said the executive organ of the state, which has control over the state machinery, the army, the police, the intelligence and other law-enforcement agencies, usually becomes stronger than other organs of the state.


“In such undesirable situations as has become the case in Zimbabwe, the executive begins to undermine other organs of the state,” said Tsunga.


“In Zimbabwe we have had the executive refusing to enforce certain court orders that are seen to be unfavourable to the state or the ruling Zanu PF party. The executive has also attacked the judiciary openly, quite unprofessionally and unfairly in a number of cases,” he said.


The most notable recent disregard of court rulings was in the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ)’s cases against the Media and Information Commission. The government has refused to abide by two Administrative Court’s rulings that the ANZ should be allowed to publish the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday.


There are at least a dozen other rulings, which the state has elected to disregard since 1999 when the High Court ruled that the police should investigate the torture of Standard journalists Ray Choto and Mark Chavunduka. To date nothing has happened.


Tsunga said the government has a history of attacking the judiciary or members of the legal profession each time it is unhappy with judicial decisions.


Tsunga also described recent remarks by Mbeki as having the potential to create real danger to human rights defenders.


Mbeki was last month quoted on his party’s website ANC Today as stating: “It is clear that some within Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world, including our country, are following the example set by (Ronald) Reagan and his advisors to treat human rights as a tool for overthrowing the government of Zimbabwe and rebuilding Zimbabwe as they wish. In modern parlance this is called regime change.”


Tsunga said such remarks by Mbeki were likely to further exacerbate the human rights crisis in the country.


“His attack on human rights defenders is likely to unfortunately result, whether intended or not, in an increase in attacks on human rights defenders in Zimbabwe and worsen an already deteriorating human rights record and increase the suffering of the majority of the powerless Zimbabweans,” said Tsunga.