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with human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa
July 09, 2009
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with Beatrice Mtetwa
did your experiences in 2003 with the police being arrested and
beaten change the way you view your work?
It sort of made me get into the shoes of the client. When someone
says 'I was beaten by the police, this happened to me'
it's easier to relate to it because you know precisely what
it is like. So, in a way it was good in the sense that, although
I was doing human rights work, it was from a theoretical perspective.
I had never really been in their shoes and the whole process you
go through is so surreal, you think 'this is not happening.'
It made me quite appreciate what my clients go through. When they
say 'this what the police did to me' I can relate to
that on a personal level.
have you not pressed charges against the police or even the state
for unlawful assault and wrongful arrest?
I did! Pressed charges, gave statements, there were investigations.
I sued, but as you know, these things never quite happen the way
you expect them. Prosecution is completely out of my hands, and
if the state doesn't pursue it, and you know why they are
not pursuing it, you hardly have any right to do it yourself.
feel frustrated by the judicial processes?
Well if you do the kind of work that I do, everyday is a frustrating
day. I've been in the legal profession for 28 years, I know
when things were done in a certain way, and if you know how things
ought to be done and you see how they're being done, yes you
get frustrated. I was a prosecutor for a long time, so I know how
the prosecution department should operate, but if you see how it
is being operated right now its completely different from how it
ought to be done, and you get extremely frustrated. You see real
criminals walking the street [with] nobody even investigating them,
you see the Attorney General's Office actively trying to protect
them, and you get extremely frustrated. In the last week I've
been representing four WOZA women who were beaten up. I've
been pushing to have the magistrate enquire into that: she must
have a full report of who assaulted them, whether they're
being prosecuted, why they were denied medical attention etc. The
state in an endeavor to frustrate that process decides that they
will withdraw charges rather than deal with the assaults on these
women. You get very frustrated because these are innocent women
who ought never to have been arrested. But they spent a night in
custody, and the real criminals who beat them up are out there and
nobody wants to touch them. Its extremely frustrating when you see
subversion of the law, by the people who ought to be saying we cannot
have this we should not have this, and these people must be prosecuted.
you ever considered giving up?
No, absolutely not. Each day I get more determined that someone
somewhere will hear the cries of the human rights people in Zimbabwe
and do something about it.
does your family cope with you being in danger?
I think because my kids know that I've been doing this from
literally when they could open their eyes. There isn't really
the feeling that I'm in danger because they think that's
what she does for a living. My son did worry a bit more than my
daughter about my safety and security, but I think all round generally
they've accepted that that's what I do.
motivates you, especially when you are working in an environment
that is hostile to you and the people you represent?
My attitude is that good will always prevail over evil. If I'm
doing what I think is right, that's all the motivation I need
and if it will make a difference to somebody, really that's
all the motivation I need. Am I doing the right thing, will I be
able to live with myself if I don't do it? And that's
what keeps me going.
has been the lowest point for you?
There are many low points when you do this job, but there are some
times when it gets personal, when Tonderai Ndira was abducted and
disappeared, and we brought an urgent application for him to be
produced because nobody knew where he was. And on the day we got
to go to court to argue the matter, I received a message that his
body had been located in a hospital and that the police were trying
to force the family to bury him without a post-mortem. This is a
young man that I had worked with when I did the 2000 election petitions,
very vibrant, very committed, and very alive. You know. When I got
that message that yes, we've identified his body at the mortuary,
I cried, and it was like 'when will this madness stop? Why
should a young man like that be murdered in cold blood for his political
beliefs? [I asked myself] are we making any difference at all? Is
there a way we could have avoided this young man being brutally
murdered? I felt very very low during that period.
do you suggest ordinary people can become more involved in improving
the situation in this country?
I think if we all played our little bit however small, we actually
could make a difference. The attitude of people is that they don't
want to get involved, [they ask] why are you doing that? Why are
you putting your life in danger? But if a lot of us were involved
the burden would be much lighter. There are lots of lawyers in this
town, but there are lots of them who will not do the kind of work
that I do. If we had a lot more lawyers doing it the burden would
be much lighter, and the same applies to ordinary people in the
street. If in your community you see violations and the majority
of you say that we will not have this in this community, it will
make a huge difference. But everybody wants to sit in their little
corner, quietly, [thinking] if I'm safe, I'm not going
to rock the boat. Everybody should get involved and do the right
On the subject of the Constitution and the Constitution
making process, do you believe that the current process will result
in a document crafted with the well being of Zimbabweans in mind?
Not if politicians are allowed to drive the process. But if we do
come out with one like that I don't think we should all go
out there and think that it will solve our problems. We do have
a Constitution right now, yes it is not the best of Constitutions,
but it has provisions that are supposed to protect certain basic
rights. And we all know that that Constitution, however flawed it
is is not being fully adhered to. That's why we are having
people abducted, we all know that it is unlawful, and nothing happens
to them [the abductors]. We all know that basic rights are being
denied to people, so I don't think that we should think that
if we have a good Constitution it necessarily will mean that its
provisions will be implemented. We could have a very good Constitution,
you could go to court to get your court order and if it is not obeyed
what happens? I think we need to change the culture of how we do
things. [We need to] make sure that those tasked with interpreting
the Constitution, are people of integrity. People who understand
that if Constitutional provisions are violated and there's
a court order, there has to be follow up, and anyone doing the violating
must face the consequences.
would you like to see in a new Zimbabwean Constitution?
I definitely would like to see provision for independent oversight
institutions. Where we will be absolutely certain that the people
who run our police force are not political appointees, with political
allegiances, where the people who run our courts are people of integrity,
they are impartial, the apply the law on everybody across the board
without feat or favour. I'd like to see an electoral process
that is run independently by people who understand that free and
fair elections are not a favour. They ought to be the basic standards
of what Zimbabweans are entitled to.
has the formation of the GNU affected your work?
I'm sorry to say that it hasn't affected my work. In
the sense that if you go to court [or] the police station nothing
has changed. Absolutely nothing has changed. As I was saying was
in court with women who were beaten up, in June, by the police,
the police [who beat them up] are known, and nobody is doing anything
about it. They had visible injuries, one had a fractured bone in
her hand, she's [wearing] a cast, and the police refused them
medical attention. When doctors came to the police station they
refused to [allow] the doctors to even just look at them or give
them some painkillers. This is the kind of thing we thought wasn't
going to happen after the Inclusive Government was formed. In the
case of the abductees, you say to yourself, for six [or] seven months
we've gone through virtually every court in Harare with them,
we've sad the same thing that these people were abducted,
tortured and denied basic rights and that is unlawful and it must
be dealt with. The Attorney General defended that all the way, until
we got to the Constitutional Court in the seventh month and that's
when the Attorney General's office says yes we accept that
it was illegal, so the first thin you ask your self is, why has
been defending this all along? Why is there no court that [before
we got here] said that this is illegal, because we've argued
that this is illegal from day one. For me that means its business
as usual in the judiciary, nothing has changed.
have an independent judiciary?
Th magistrates, if left alone, are generally independent, they try
to apply the law except for a few, one or two. But on the whole
one is likely to get justice in the magistrates court better than
the Superior courts, which is unfortunate. We do have a few independent
judges in the High Court, but that is not to say that they have
no fear, maybe there's one who doesn't care about the
fear side of it but even the independent ones do have fears, because
nobody want to rock the boat.
topic of Jestina Mukoko, can you comment on her case so far?
Probably not, except to say that it is another case that demonstrates
that the signing of the GPA
didn't change much. Her abduction occurred after the GPA had
been signed, it's the kind of thing you thought wouldn't
happen, and if it did, something would happen to those who did it.
Instead we got an affidavit from a Minister saying we are not going
to tell you who did it, because my boys did it, and that's
believe that the GNU will deliver on the deliverables that were
set out in the GPA?
I think we're beginning to see the political bickering, and
unless SADC comes out strongly in favour of implementation, which
it hasn't really been able to do to date, I'd be very
surprised if the GNU delivers what is expected of it.
then is failing? Who's not doing their part?
I think there is resistance. Everybody has seen resistance in the
way the GPA is being implemented. When you get parties to the GPA
bickering over basic things like [laws that have been repealed]
and court orders are deliberately and brazenly ignored. You can
see that the commitment to make this thing work is not there.
Duration: 1min 50sec
Date: July 09, 2009
File Type: MP3
Date: July 09, 2009
File Type: MP3
Date: July 09, 2009
File Type: MP3
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