New Zimbabwe (London)

Zimbabwe: Lawyers Protest Rise in Rights Abuses

HUMAN rights defenders have petitioned government to start aligning the laws of the country to the new constitution as well as guarantee the independence of both the bench and legal practitioners.

Dozens of rights defenders who gathered at the Harare gardens Friday to mark the commemoration of the United Nations International Human Rights Day said rights abuses were still rampant in the country.

"Key strategic players in the justice delivery namely lawyers representing human rights defenders continue to face wanton and unjustified attacks from the media and certain arms of government and non-state actors," read the petition by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) delivered before a huge gathering by Selby Hwacha.

"Concerns on the need to take robust measures to protect the space for human rights lawyers continue to fall on deaf ears.

"To the executive, recall and give effect to all recommendations made in the last decade at all levels in upholding the rights and protections offered to judges and prosecutors as these are key to advancing the rule of law and promotion of human rights."

ZLHR also called on the government to "implement requisite institutional reforms to protect the space for human rights defenders and their lawyers as they continue to work towards the realisation of constitutional rights and freedoms."

To the judiciary, Hwacha continued, "increase cooperation and engagement between the judges and the lawyers. Institute necessary institutional reforms and asset independence of both judges and the legal profession for the greater good and effective delivery of

justice."

Top human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama also bemoaned the continued failure by the state to observe human rights.

"Rights are still being abused in Zimbabwe. What was in the constitution was an attempt to make these human rights available to Zimbabweans," he said.

"And this is our hope that in accordance with international standards and norms, human rights in Zimbabwe must be protected as outlined in the Constitution, in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, in the African Charter on Human and People's Rights as well as various other international conventions.

"So what we are not happy with as lawyers is in the incessant attacks on not only lawyers but human rights defenders in general and we are saying that this must stop now and immediately so that human rights generally are protected, promoted and respected."

Muchadehama lamented the continued existence in the Zimbabwean statues of repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act as well as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The United Nations set aside 10 December of every year to mark the observance of human rights.

The theme this year is "Twenty years working for your rights".

Friday's commemorations also saw the human rights defenders stage a three kilometre march accompanied by the police.

The peaceful march went past the High Court, the Prosecutor General's Office and the justice Ministry offices in the city centre.

Zimbabwe has a human rights commission which has been accused of being impotent in the face of rampant rights abuses by President Robert Mugabe's regime.

The new constitution, authored painstakingly by the erstwhile inclusive government, has a comprehensive Bill of Rights but the Zanu PF led government is yet to align the laws with the supreme law of the country.

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