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Violence and threats against lawyers condemned by the IBA
International Bar Association (IBA)
March 21, 2007

The International Bar Association (IBA)’s Human Rights Institute today condemned the recent violence and threats made against Zimbabwean lawyers by police and other officials.

On 20 March, Ms Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer, and her assistant were violently manhandled and threatened by police officers whilst serving them court papers. Ms Mtetwa has represented many people who have been arrested for attempting to exercise their fundamental human rights to free association, assembly and expression.

This incident is the latest in a series of disturbing reports of threats against lawyers involved in representing those involved in the 7 March prayer meeting in Highfield. As the IBA reported last week, many of those involved in the meeting were arrested and brutally attacked by police in detention.

Other reports include the following:

- On 19 March, lawyer Mr Harrison Nkomo was threatened with arrest by Assistant Commissioner Mabunda when he tried to serve court processes and notices.

- On 18 March, Mr Andrew Makoni, was reportedly threatened with ‘disappearance’ at the Harare police station whilst attempting to serve a High Court order on the Assistant Commissioner.

- On 17 March, lawyer Mr Tafadzwa Mugabe was threatened with assault and arrest when trying to assert his clients’ rights to leave the country to access medical treatment in South Africa. His clients were among those brutally attacked by police following the 7 March prayer meeting. He was also told to stop representing those clients.

- Also on 17 March 2007, lawyer Mar Dzimbabwe Chimbga, was threatened by officials at the airport when returning to Harare, and was told to stop taking up cases involving opposition members.

- On 11 March 2007, Mr Harrison Nkomo was assaulted with a baton by officers at Machipisa Police Station after inquiring about the whereabouts of the opposition leaders arrested following the prayer meeting on 7 March.

The IBA is extremely anxious about the safety of lawyers in Zimbabwe, particularly those involved in representing opposition members. The intimidation of lawyers in this manner breaches Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which guarantee the right to legal counsel of one’s choosing. Zimbabwe is a party to both these instruments.

The IBA would also like to draw attention to the provisions of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which guarantee the right of all persons to be assisted by a lawyer to protect their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings. The Basic Principles also provide that Governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance or harassment. Further, Governments are obliged to ensure that lawyers shall not suffer or be threatened with sanctions for any action as part of their professional duties. In situations where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their duties, they must be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

It is evident that the Government of Zimbabwe is not protecting but violating the rights of its lawyers in violation of the Basic Principles. The IBA calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to take immediate steps to ensure that these rights are protected and that lawyers are able to perform their role without fear of violence or intimidation.

‘The recent threats made to lawyers place the rule of law in Zimbabwe in even greater peril’, Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association stated. ‘The international community must increase pressure on the Mugabe Government to end this series of unprecedented attacks on basic human rights.’

‘This disregard for international human rights obligations and the rule of law is of serious concern, stated Justice Richard Goldstone, Co-Chair of the HRI. ‘I call on the Mugabe Government to ensure strict observance of its own laws and international treaty obligations’.

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