6 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Lawyers Petition Government for Protection to Mark Human Rights Day

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) marched from Harare Gardens through the streets of the capital on Thursday, to commemorate International Human Rights Day, which falls on December 10th.

The lawyers delivered petitions to the Supreme Court, the High Court, Parliament, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the Attorney General's Office, asking for protection for legal practitioners while they do their work. The petitions had already been delivered to the Principals in the unity government.

Andrew Makoni, chairman of the ZLHR, told SW Radio Africa that Human Rights Day comes this year at a time when lawyers and their clients in Zimbabwe are experiencing serious violations of their individual and professional rights.

He said: "The petition cites the increased level of intimidation we are experiencing as lawyers because of our work. We complain of arbitrary arrest and wrongful detention of lawyers on unsubstantiated charges. We also complain of unlawful access to and seizure of client files. These are the challenges we face."

Makoni explained that the ZLHR decided on their own local theme this year, because the challenges they face in Zimbabwe are unique. The theme was: "Respect, promote and protect the legal practitioners from all forms of threats, harassment and intimidation in the course of carrying out their duties".

Makoni said abuses against lawyers include being denied entry into police stations or access to clients, verbal and physical attacks, as well as wrongful arrest, detention and "persecution through prosecution" of lawyers. The lawyers have documented many of these incidents and raised the issues with government in the past, but nothing has been done.

Asked whether they viewed the judiciary system as being partisan, Makoni said:

"With the courts having made certain pronouncements concerning the conduct of of lawyers it would be difficult for me to comment on whether the judiciary is partisan or not, but there may be public perceptions of such a bias."

He was referring to recent comments made by a Supreme Court judge, who blasted lawyers from the ZLHR for talking to the press and criticizing judicial rulings.

Makoni said the lawyers expect the level of intimidation and harassment of lawyers to increase as the country heads towards elections, because that is when violence levels go up and lawyers are called upon to represent victims and perpetrators.

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