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ZLHR marches to present petition against Constitutional Amendment (No.17) Bill: Supreme Court "closed for constitutional business"
Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR)
August 17, 2005

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights march in HarareOn 17 August 2005 around 40 lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) marched through Harare's Central Business District to the Parliament and Supreme Court of Zimbabwe to present a petition against the Constitutional Amendment (No.17) Bill to the Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice respectively. The petition was signed by over 100 lawyers from around the country.

The Acting Officer Commanding Police for Harare Central District, Superintendent G Samanyanga, attempted to prevent the march from taking place, but ZLHR maintained that it had complied with its legal obligations and was therefore entitled to proceed. ZLHR recommended that the regulating authorities seek a court interdict if they wished to stop the march. No further action was taken by the police, although they maintained a noticeable presence throughout the march and visited the ZLHR offices after the march to obtain copies of the petition and informational flyers which were distributed to the general public along the route.

The Speaker of Parliament refused to meet the lawyers to accept the petition. Instead the Chief of Security for Parliament undertook to deliver it to him. ZLHR had called on Members of Parliament to:
· Reject the imposition of an undemocratic Amendment which has failed to recognise the need for consultation with themselves or their constituents
· Initiate a process of wholesale constitutional reform which takes into account the views of all stakeholders

Armed police outside a locked Supreme Court denied the lawyers entry and barred ZLHR representatives from presenting the petition to the Chief Justice. Ironically the lawyers are opposing the Amendment Bill in part due to its encroachment on judicial powers by the Executive and the dangers the Bill poses to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. ZLHR has petitioned the Judiciary to:
· Take a firm and public position against the affront to its dignity, constitutional function and the threat to its very existence
· Insist that basic international norms and standards relating to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms be respected by the Executive and Legislature
· Remind the Executive and Legislature of their obligations under international law, to give effect to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe and ensure them of their entitlements under domestic and international law

ZLHR is disheartened by the failure of the Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice to personally accept the petition, bearing in mind the overriding importance of the constitutional debate to society at large. ZLHR also condemns the actions of the police in denying lawyers entry to the Supreme Court which, as officers of the court, they are entitled to as of right.

We call on both the Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe to take the concerns of the legal profession seriously and to address the issues raised with the solemnity and urgency that they deserve. Hiding behind closed doors can only be seen as unwillingness to engage in a debate which is of national importance and a failure to fulfil their mandate from the nation they purport to serve.

Visit the ZLHR fact sheet

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