‘Rights lawyers will be out of work if crisis ends’

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Human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe could be silently praying that the present crisis in the country does not end because they would be out of jobs, a British MP who was in Zimbabwe early this year has told the House of Commons.

Oliver Colvile said when he asked some human rights lawyers during a dinner what they would do for a living if the situation in Zimbabwe cleared up, they did not have a response.

“Last month, while the eyes of the world were focused on Libya and the Middle East, I, the Honourable Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and Lord Joffe, who was Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma’s lawyer during the apartheid years, spent three days in meetings with the Prime Minister (Morgan Tsvangirai), MDC and Zanu PF MPs, human rights lawyers and members of Zimbabwe’s civil society,” Colvile, told the house.

“I should say that at one stage during a dinner with some of the human rights lawyers I asked what they would do for a living should the whole situation be cleared up, and they did not have too much of a response.”

But human rights lawyer, Trust Maanda, disputed Colvile’s claims saying: “It’s not true that lawyers thrive in an environment of human rights abuses. When human rights are respected and rule of law is indeed in place, the lawyers will thrive in their business because the environment will be conducive for everybody to do business.”

Maanda added: “In a situation where human rights are infringed left, right and centre, the rule of law is absent, the atmosphere for business is not conducive and lawyers are negatively affected.”

Irene Petras, director for the Zimbabwe Lawyers form Human Rights (ZLHR) said she was not aware of any meeting with the British MP.

She said it was wrong to suggest that human rights lawyers required a “crisis” to continue working.
“If human rights lawyering was done for a living, then it would be a very poor living indeed. The majority of clients exposed to human rights violations are unable to afford legal fees and those who support human rights organisations are not easily convinced of the need to pay lawyers for representing clients,” Petras said.

Petras said a democratic transition and stable environment would provide human rights lawyers with opportunities that are ideal to engage policy makers, contribute to institutional and legislative reform and improve access to justice.