Back to Index
policing: An obstacle to human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe
PDF version (459KB)
If you do not have the free Acrobat reader
on your computer, download it from the Adobe website by clicking
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).
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.
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.
of the conclusions
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.
ZRP and basic rights to ensure the safety and security of those
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.
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
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
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.