AU report slams erosion of rule of law


Gift Phiri

THE stinging African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) report on Zimbabwe reveals government’s attempt to limit civil liberties through the enactment of colonia

l-style legislation and the steady subjugation of civil society.


In its findings, the commission said there had been “a flurry of new legislation” and the revival of old laws used under the Smith regime to manipulate public opinion and limit civil liberties.


The report, a record of a visit by experts from the ACHPR between June 24 and 28 2002, says Zimbabwe is a deeply divided society beset by police abuses, a shackled media, illegal land invasions and a politically compromised judiciary.


The report was tabled at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa last week amid loud protests by Foreign minister Stan Mudenge who claimed that Zimbabwe had not been afforded an opportunity to respond to the document. The report states that the judiciary has been under pressure in recent times.


“The mission was struck by the observation that the judiciary had been tainted and…bears the distrust that comes from the prevailing political conditions,” it said.


The Chief Justice was conscious of the responsibility to rebuild public trust, it said. In this respect he advised that a code of conduct for the judiciary was under consideration.


“It appears that their conditions of service do not protect them from political pressure; appointments to the bench could be done in such a way that they could be insulated from the stigma of political patronage,” the report says.


“Security at Magistrates’ and (the) High Court should ensure the protection of presiding officers. The independence of the judiciary should be assured in practice and judicial orders must be obeyed. Government and the media have a responsibility to ensure the high regard and esteem due to members of the judiciary by refraining from political attacks or the use of inciting language against judges and magistrates.”


The report strongly criticised the ombudsman whose mandate was supposed to include human rights protection and promotion.


“It was evident to the mission that the office was inadequately provided for such a task and that the prevailing mindset, especially of the ombudsman herself, was not one which engendered the confidence of the public.” The ombudsman claimed she had not received any reports of human rights violations, the report noted.


“That did not surprise the mission seeing that in her press statement following our visit, and without undertaking any investigations into allegations levelled against them, the ombudsman was defensive of allegations against the youth militia.”


The office needed to be independent and to earn public trust, the report said. The report describes the Zimbabwean police as partisan.


“Every effort must be made to avoid any further politicisation of the police service,” it says. “The police service must attract all Zimbabweans from whatever political persuasion or none to give service to the country with pride. The police should never be at the service of any political party but must at all times seek to abide by the values of the Constitution and enforce the law without fear or favour.”


The report advises that recruitment, conditions of service and in-service training be undertaken to ensure the highest standards of professionalism in the police. Equally, it says, there should be an independent mechanism for receiving complaints about police conduct.


“Activities of units within the ZRP like the Law and Order unit which seem to operate under political instructions and without accountability to the ZRP command structures should be disbanded,” the report says.


“There were also reports that elements of the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) were engaged in activities contrary to the international practice of intelligence organisations. These should be brought under control.”


The report states that the activities of the youth militia trained in the youth camps had been brought to the mission’s attention.


“Reports suggest that these youth serve as party militia engaged in political violence. The African Commission proposes that these youth camps be closed down and training centres be established under the ordinary education and employment system of the country,” it notes. It recommended for study and implementation the Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (known as the Robben Island Guidelines).


“There was enough evidence placed before the mission to suggest that, at the very least during the period under review, human rights violations occurred in Zimbabwe,” the report notes. “The mission was presented with testimony from witnesses who were victims of political violence and others victims of torture while in police custody. There was evidence that …arbitrary arrests took place.”


Especially alarming, the report said, was the arrest of the president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe Sternford Moyo, journalists including Peta Thornycroft and Geoff Nyarota, and the torture of opposition MPs and human rights lawyers such as Gabriel Shumba.


The report says there was need to create an environment conducive to democracy and human rights.


“The African Commission believes that as a mark of goodwill, government should abide by the judgements of the Supreme Court and repeal sections of the Access to Information (and Protection of Privacy) Act calculated to freeze the free expression of public opinion,” it says.


“The Public Order (and Security) Act must also be reviewed. Legislation that inhibits public participation by NGOs in public education, human rights counselling must be reviewed. The Private Voluntary Organisations Act should be repealed.”


On human rights violations, it says human rights abuses that occurred were in many instances “at the hands of Zanu PF party activists”. The report states that it was not able to find definitively that this was part of an orchestrated policy of the government.


“There were enough assurances from the Head of State, Cabinet ministers and the leadership of the ruling party that there has never been any plan or policy of violence, disruption or any form of human rights violations, orchestrated by the state. There was also an acknowledgement that excesses did occur,” it says.


“The mission is prepared and able to rule, that the government cannot wash its hands from responsibility for all these happenings. It is evident that a highly charged atmosphere has been prevailing, many land activists undertook their illegal actions in the expectation that government was understanding and that police would not act against them – many of them, the war veterans, purported to act as party veterans and activists.”

Government did not act soon enough and firmly enough against those guilty of gross criminal acts, the report says.


“By its statements and political rhetoric, and by its failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law, the government failed to chart a path that signalled a commitment to the rule of law,” it says.