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Legal Monitor Issue 105
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

August 11, 2011

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Sex workers on spotlight

Theirs is a bumpy world. From dealing with violent clients to braving abuse by police, Zimbabwe's sex workers are having it rough as they hustle on street corners and red light districts.

The gross human rights violations suffered by commercial sex workers came to life in Johannesburg last week.

A documentary by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) detailing the tribulations and violations faced by Zimbabwean commercial sex workers featured prominently at a regional dialogue organised by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.

The 10-minute documentary headlined the start of a session on sex work at the Africa Regional Dialogue organised by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law that took place from 3-4 August in Johannesburg.

Titled "From Behind the shadows-The effects of criminalisation of sex work in Zimbabwe", the ZLHR documentary showcased the trials and tribulations faced by sex workers in Zimbabwe.

The documentary highlights the cruelty sex workers face at the hands of law enforcement agents and their struggle in accessing medical services and drugs.

Sex workers allege abuse at the hands of the police and discrimination at health care centres.

"The DVD was high quality and quite informative. As a secretariat we decided to have it set the agenda for the session on sex work on 4 August at the Africa Dialogue. The documentary was indeed well received," said Emilie Pradichit, of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law secretariat.

The Johannesburg regional dialogue gave voice to regional and country perspectives on issues related to HIV and the law. It contributed to regional efforts to create enabling legal environments that support effective HIV responses.

The forum provided a unique opportunity for regional civil society groups to engage directly with government officials, law experts, United Nations representatives and members of the Global Commission to discuss gaps and opportunities for changes in the law, practices of law enforcement, issues with legal aid and access to redress.

Participants shared experiences and perspectives of individuals, communities, policy and law makers and law enforcement actors in the region.

The regional dialogues are aimed at generating policy dialogue, with a view to giving voice to the critical HIV-related human rights and legal issues within the region.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law was launched in June 2010 to develop actionable, evidence-informed and human rightsbased recommendations for effective HIV responses that protect and promote the rights of people living with and most vulnerable to HIV.

It focuses on some of the most challenging legal and human rights issues in the context of HIV, including criminalisation of HIV transmission, behaviours and practices such as drug use, sex work and homosexuality. The commission also deals with issues of prisoners, migrants, children's rights, violence against women, and access to treatment.

ZLHR said it had noted escalating reports of police who abused their positions of authority to allegedly rape women that they would have arrested for loitering.

The human rights organisation said a number of cases of alleged sexual abuse of people suspected of loitering by the police went unreported and every effort to report such cases by victims had been thwarted by police.

"The violation of women and sexual assaults perpetrated by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police is barbaric, brutal and at cross purposes with the Service Charter of the Zimbabwe Republic Police," said Tinashe Mundawarara, the programme manager for ZLHR's HIV, AIDS, Human Rights and Law project.

"It is wrong for male police officers to detain women arrested for alleged loitering in their cars and drive with them around the city for purposes of psychological torture before soliciting for sex as a precondition for their release. It is wrong for our police force to be the drivers of decay of our social and moral fabric. It is unfortunate to note that many women who have been raped and abused have not been able to access justice owing to an uncooperative police force that seek to protect each other.

"The long arm of the law in this instance has failed to reach the criminals within its reach. ZLHR salutes the few women who have weathered harassment and threats to seek justice under very difficult and trying circumstances without help from those who are supposed to speak for their rights," said Mundawarara.

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