What measures are needed to uphold the rule of law and administration of justice in Zimbabwe and to prevent police impunity for human rights violations? How can partisan policing be overcome? This paper reports on a fact-finding visit to Zimbabwe carried out for the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute between 11-18 August 2007. The delegation found that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are responsible for serious human rights and rule of law violations. The ZRP has consistently shown contempt for the law, lawyers and judicial authorities. Far-reaching reforms are necessary to align Zimbabwe’s policing operations with the constitution and with regional and international human rights standards.
The police routinely disregard detainees’ basic rights, such as access to their lawyers, family members, medical personnel and courts. There have been many credible allegations of police torture, use of excessive force, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and obstruction of legal representatives. Further findings relate to:
- Partisan policing: The police repeatedly characterise government critics and their lawyers as ‘agents of the West’ or ‘enemies of the state’ and routinely violate their rights. Biased policing further polarises society and heightens insecurity and political tensions.
- Police impunity for human rights violations: ZRP members are rarely prosecuted – even for serious crimes and there is little evidence of internal disciplinary action. Unlawful police behaviour seems to have been exacerbated by public support for ZRP actions from key government figures.
- Undermining the role of the Attorney General: Members of the ZRP have attempted to usurp the constitutional role of the Attorney-General, who is responsible for prosecutions, and to coerce the Attorney-General’s officers into prosecuting cases.
- Ineffective judicial action against police abuses: The lack of responsiveness shown by the courts to even urgent cases of police abuse has negatively impacted on human rights protection and has hindered access to justice.
- Contempt for court orders: Police display rampant contempt for judicial decisions, which has contributed to a serious loss of public confidence in the justice system and to an increase in lawlessness.
The Zimbabwean government must set out a clear timetable for developing a comprehensive programme to transform the ZRP into a politically neutral, service-oriented force that ensures law and order for all and observes human rights. It is crucial to restore public faith in the police. International actors need to ensure that sufficient resources and expertise are available to support a credible police reform programme. Further:
- The Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) must hold the ZRP to account for alleged breaches of the SARPCCO code of conduct.
- Judicial authorities should promptly and fully investigate all reports of human rights violations and non-compliance with court orders by police.
- The Attorney-General should denounce all attacks and threats by police against its officers and ensure that those working in the Attorney-General’s office are free from intimidation.
- It is important to allow appointed members of the public, including representatives of the legal and medical professions, human rights organisations and the wider community, to observe and report publicly on detention conditions and practices in Zimbabwe’s police stations.
- The ZRP and the Law Society of Zimbabwe should develop clear guidelines that ensure all detainees are permitted access to a lawyer of their choice from the moment at which they are detained.
- The government should open channels of communication with members of the legal profession and civil society groups to ensure the implementation and establishment of systems to end rule of law infractions and human rights abuses.