Our hands are tied - Erosion of the rule of law in Zimbabwe

Originally published


I. Summary

Our hands are tied. We cannot do anything where ZANU-PF is involved. However, if your case was not political we could have helped you-all political violence matters are off limits for the police.

-A Police officer in Chegutu, Mashonaland West province, declining to investigate a political violence complaint, June 2008.

Over the last decade, Zimbabwe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has progressively and systematically compromised the independence and impartiality of Zimbabwe's judiciary and public prosecutors, and instilled one-sided partisanship into the police. Since 2000 it has purged the judiciary, packed the courts with ZANU-PF supporters and handed out "gifts" of land and goods to ensure the judges' loyalty. It has provided instructions to prosecutors to keep opposition members in jail for as long as possible. It has transformed Zimbabwe's police force into an openly partisan and unaccountable arm of ZANU-PF.

The power-sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), signed on September 15, 2008, provided an opportunity to begin fundamental changes within the judiciary and police. However, in failing to recognize the collapse of respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, the agreement sidesteps the urgent need for reforms. As this report demonstrates, ZANU-PF lacks the necessary commitment to end its improper and unlawful involvement in the justice system, let alone to be entrusted with instituting the necessary reforms.

Police partisanship has contributed heavily to Zimbabwe's disastrous human rights situation. Serving police officers told Human Rights Watch that between April and July 2008, police across Zimbabwe were issued with specific instructions not to investigate or arrest ZANU-PF supporters and their allies implicated in political violence. Human Rights Watch also found that of at least 163 politically motivated extrajudicial killings-almost entirely of MDC supporters-since the March 29, 2008 general elections, police have only made two arrests, neither of which led to general elections, police have only made two arrests, neither of which led to prosecutions.

Members of the ZANU-PF militia who killed six people in Chaona on May 5 continue to walk free. The ZANU-PF supporters who killed MDC councilor Gibbs Chironga and three others in Chiweshe on June 20 have not been investigated. The murder of Joshua Bakacheza, an MDC driver, on June 24 has not resulted in any arrests. The police refuse to investigate the abduction and beating by ZANU-PF youth of Kadombo Chitokwa and thousands of others.

Police have arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of MDC leaders and activists. MDC leaders subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention include Tendai Biti-arrested at the airport on June 12-Ian Kay and Eric Matinenga. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of police officers openly engaging in partisan politics in contravention of the Police Act. In several provinces where armed ZANU-PF members have unlawfully taken policing duties upon themselves-carrying out arrests, investigations and meting out punishment-government authorities have refused to intervene.

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