UN expert says developments in Zimbabwe threaten peace and democracy in Africa

A United Nations human rights expert today voiced outrage over the deterioration of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and called on the international community to pressure the country's Government for the sake of regional stability.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, issued his harshly worded statement in Geneva in response to the arrest of retired High Court Judge Blackie, who is charged with alleged corruption and obstruction of justice. The High Court dismissed the judge's application for habeas corpus in what the expert termed "yet another clear systematic attack on the basic fabric of democracy - the rule of law in Zimbabwe."

Mr. Cumaraswamy said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the Government's actions against Justice Blackie "are an act of vendetta" because he had convicted and sentenced Zimbabwe's Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa, for contempt of court. A Supreme Court judge subsequently set aside that ruling.

"When judges can be arrested, detained and charged on trumped up facts for exercising their judicial functions then there is no hope for the rule of law in such countries," said the Special Rapporteur, calling Zimbabwe's actions "a blatant and wanton breach" of the UN's Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.

The Special Rapporteur also voiced grave concern over the High Court's recent refusal to allow the opposition access to the voters' roll in a pending court action challenging the legality of the recent Presidential elections. "The voters' roll must necessarily be a crucial and material evidence in the action," he said.

Mr. Cumaraswamy, who has on five previous occasions publicly expressed his grave concerns over the deterioration of the rule of law Zimbabwe, said the country's Government "obviously is impervious to international concerns and outrage." He called on the international community to double its efforts to pressure the Government to comply with its obligations under the Constitution and international law.

"The prevailing lawlessness in the Government is not only a menace to the people of Zimbabwe but if allowed unabated could threaten peace, democracy and the rule of law in the African region," he warned.