THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Partisan policing: An obstacle to human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe
International Bar Association
October 2007

Download this document
- Acrobat PDF version (459KB)
If you do not have the free Acrobat reader on your computer, download it from the Adobe website by clicking here.

Executive Summary

This is the executive summary of the report of a fact-finding visit to the Republic of Zimbabwe by experts on behalf of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) between 11-18 August 2007. The fact-finding visit was prompted by increasing international, regional and domestic concerns at the apparent erosion of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. These concerns related to unlawful police action in the country, police excesses and brutality and the intimidation of civilians, human rights activists, the organised legal profession, trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The delegation was sent to investigate the status of the rule of law and administration of justice in that country and, in particular, the role of the police in the administration of justice. The issues were to be analysed within constitutional and relevant regional and international standards, and the administration of justice processes in Zimbabwe. The particular focus area was the role of the police in the administration of justice. Specifically, to evaluate the relationship between the police, lawyers and prosecutors, and to prepare a report on the situation in Zimbabwe for dissemination. The report contains recommendations for the immediate and long term measures necessary to protect and uphold the rule of law and administration of justice in Zimbabwe and prevent impunity for human rights violations.

The delegation comprised the following members: Dr Overs M M Banda, the ex-Permanent Secretary for Justice of Zambia up and until 2002 and currently Honorary Treasurer of the Law Association of Zambia. Dr Banda is the Dean of the School of Law, Cavendish University, Zambia and runs his own law firm, OMM Banda and Co., Professor D J Titus, Executive Dean in the College of Law at the University of South Africa in South Africa, Andrea A Gabriel, an Advocate in practice and a member of the Durban Bar in South Africa (Andrea acted as rapporteur) and Esther Major, Programme Manager of the IBAHRI.

Summary of the conclusions

The ZRP and its constitutional responsibilities

The IBAHRI is of the view that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has abdicated its constitutional functions, responsibilities and obligations. Police officers are responsible for some of the most serious human rights and rule of law violations in Zimbabwe today. The ZRP has consistently shown disrespect and contempt for the law, lawyers and judicial authorities to an extent that has seriously imperilled the administration of justice and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. Far-reaching reforms and reorientation are necessary to bring Zimbabwe's policing operations into conformity with constitution and regional and international human rights standards.

The ZRP and basic rights to ensure the safety and security of those in custody

The IBAHRI found that one of the most common allegations against the police is that they routinely disregard basic rights of detainees, such as free access for detainees to their lawyers, access to family members, medical personnel and courts. Without these basic protections, individuals in police detention are at increased risk of torture, disappearance and other serious human rights violations. Indeed, the IBAHRI delegation found the large number of credible allegations of torture, use of excessive force, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and obstruction of legal representatives to be a cause for alarm.

Impunity for grave human rights violations committed by the ZRP

The IBAHRI found that underlying the large number of grave abuses by the ZRP is a culture of impunity. Members of the police force act as if they are above the law because, in fact, they are rarely prosecuted even when they commit the most serious of crimes. Police officers who have been identified in court proceedings as responsible for serious violations, including torture, continue to occupy their positions. There is even little evidence of internal disciplinary action being taken against them.

There has been no public condemnation by the President, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Police Commissioner and other senior government officials of even the most shocking cases of torture and ill-treatment by police or any show of a commitment to investigate, discipline and prosecute those responsible are notable by their absence. On the contrary, the public support expressed by those in key positions of power, such as the President, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Police Commissioner amongst others, for the various actions of the ZRP, appears to have exacerbated the impunity surrounding abuses by police and emboldens them in their unlawful behaviour.

Partisan policing

Instead of conducting itself as a national security force charged by the Constitution and statute with ensuring public order and security in the country, the ZRP has abandoned its constitutional mandate in favour of an approach to policing which is blatantly partisan. The police repeatedly characterise government opponents and critics and their lawyers as 'agents of the West' or 'enemies of the state' and routinely violate the rights of these persons during policing operations.

Biased policing further polarises Zimbabwean society and heightens insecurity and political tensions. Everyone in Zimbabwe should be guaranteed equal protection of the law. The IBAHRI asserts that the absence of such protection is a major obstacle to democracy in Zimbabwe and a considerable impediment to free and fair elections.

Undermining the role of the Attorney General

The IBAHRI delegation heard of numerous cases in which members of the ZRP have attempted to usurp the constitutional role of the Attorney-General, who is responsible for prosecutions in Zimbabwe. Credible reports were received of attempts by police to coerce the Attorney-General's officers into prosecuting cases. The report also highlights the stress that prosecutors are currently placed under by members of the ZRP when carrying out their professional duties.

Such a course undermines the integrity and independence of the office of the Attorney-General. This is recognised as a matter of law in section 12 of the Police Act, which obliges the Commissioner of Police to comply with directions issued by the Attorney-General 'to investigate and report on any matter which relates to any criminal offence or alleged or suspected criminal offence'.

Ineffective judicial action

The IBAHRI found the lack of due judicial action in the cases of police abuse to be another cause of serious concern. The judicial processes in which police abuses are alleged show a disturbing pattern that reflects, in many cases, the complacency on the part of the courts in holding police to account for alleged abuses.

Many of those interviewed reported facing serious obstacles when seeking urgent judicial protection of persons in police custody and judicial investigation of allegations against police is lacking. The lack of responsiveness shown by the courts to urgent cases has negatively impacted on human rights protection and frustrated access to justice.

Where there are found to be actions by the members of the ZRP which are contrary to the rule of law, investigations and disciplinary action should be undertaken. Judicial inaction on such issues, particularly where they relate to serious human rights violations and fundamental rights such as habeas corpus will inevitably lead to a situation where the role of the courts in protecting human rights becomes defunct.

Contempt for court orders

The high number of court orders, in particular those relating to matters requiring urgent attention, which have been ignored or not enforced, is of grave concern. The frustration among the members of the legal profession with whom the delegation met was palpable. The delegation concluded that there is rampant contempt for the courts and judicial decisions by police, to the detriment of those seeking redress for, or protection from, human rights violations.

Contempt for judicial decisions and lack of enforcement of court orders is a serious impediment to access to justice and a further affront to the independence of the judiciary. The delegation found that such contempt has contributed to a serious loss of public confidence in the justice system and an increase in lawlessness. The lack of follow up, particularly in relation to the contempt shown by the police for orders issued by the court is of grave concern.

Download full document 

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.