Zimbabwe: Situation of Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders and Others in Zimbabwe

Re: Situation of Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders and Others in Zimbabwe

To: Hon. Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada

From: Catherine Morris, BA, LLB, LLM, member LRWC

Date: 2003-01-29

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of Canadian lawyers, provides support internationally to lawyers in danger and promotes the enforcement of international human rights standards protecting the duty and right of lawyers to uphold the rule of law.

On behalf of LRWC, I wrote to you in June 2002 about the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. We have become alarmed at information we have recently received about the serious deterioration of the rule of law there. We gravely concerned about the news of the arrest and detention of Gabriel Shumba, a lawyer and member of the Zimbabwean Human Rights NGO Forum on January 14, 2003. He was detained in St Mary’s Chitungwiza along with his brother, Bishop Shumba, and a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Member of Parliament, Job Sikhala. We understand that all three were later moved to Mbare Police Station, then to the Harare Law and Order Section. They were denied access to legal representatives until a court order was issued on January 15, 2003. When they appeared before a judge the following day, Mr. Sikhala stated he had been beaten, electrocuted and forced to swallow urine and another noxious liquid while being interrogated by the police about a recent arson attack. The judge ordered that he and Mr. Shumba be given medical treatment. Mr. Shumba also stated that police subjected him to electric shocks and other physical abuse. All three men were released on bail and forced to surrender their passports. In other separate incidents on January 14, four members of the Combined Harare Residents Association, Farai Barnabas Mangodza, Jameson Gadzirayi, Joseph Rose and Richard Mubekwe, were detained and physically mistreated. Apparently, these four men have all been charged with violating the Public Order and Security Act.

These are not isolated incidents. There have been numerous incidents of detention and physical ill treatment, including severe beatings of persons advocating human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. As we indicated in our previous letter last June, Zimbabwe’s Public Order and Security Act contains provisions that contravene basic human rights of expression, association and assembly contained in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and in the Constitution of Zimbabwe itself. The Public Order and Security Act passed by the Zimbabwe Parliament in January 2002 has regularly been used to suppress peaceful opposition, political organizing, criticism of the government and independent media reporting.

Human rights defenders are being denied their rights pursuant to provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 1998.

Torture and arbitrary imprisonment now appear to be common in Zimbabwe. The Commission on Human Rights in 2002 expressed concerns about cases of disappearance, summary execution, kidnapping, torture, beating, harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, including of journalists, opposition politicians and their supporters and human rights defenders. They also expressed concern about attacks on judicial independence. Finally, we feel we must speak out about the culpability of this regime in the impending humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. There are now alarming reports about widespread hunger and malnutrition. Millions of people are facing starvation according to UN reports. Especially alarming are reports from opposition party members and an independent report of the Danish Physicians for Human Rights which suggest that supporters of President Mugabe have manipulated government “food for work” programs, the government-controlled Grain Marketing Board and even donor programs in drought-stricken areas to deny food to tens of thousands of people who have backed the MDC. The physicians’ reported evidence of deliberate starvation of children under five years of age from MDC families.

We are asking the Government of Canada to use all its influence to persuade the government of Zimbabwe to live up to the international conventions to which it is a party and to guard the rule of law for all its citizens. The mandate of LRWC is to uphold the safety and rights of lawyers and others and to advocate the rule of law and international human rights. However, we cannot remain silent in the face of reports that the corrupt and brutal regime in Zimbabwe is implicated in deliberately withholding food from little children for its own political ends.

No doubt you are aware of this grave situation. We hope the Canadian government is taking urgent, decisive and firm steps to address the grave human rights situation and impending humanitarian disaster in Zimbabwe. We look forward to hearing about the Canadian government’s plans in relation to Zimbabwe.