BY SILAS NKALA
MDC secretary for justice and legal affairs Innocent Gonese has raised concern over what he called was the “lack of rule of law” in the country, saying the nation had witnessed an alarming level of human rights abuses by the Executive, army, police, Judiciary.
“There is no break from the past. What has happened over the last few weeks is a negation of what our liberation fighters fought for and is a return to the dark ages. For starters, the involvement of the army is on its own problematic and the situation is worsened by the reports and scenes of brutality which are there for all to see,” Gonese said in a statement yesterday.
“The victimisation, sexual abuse and rape of women is inexcusable. The situation is compounded by the failure of the police to carry out their role in a professional non-partisan manner. What we have witnessed is the wanton disregard of the elementary rules of the game, whereby section 50 of our Constitution is respected.”
Gonese’s statement comes as the Zanu PF-led government has failed to withdraw soldiers who were deployed onto the streets to quell the violent protests that erupted mid-January.
Human rights groups say 12 people were shot and killed during the protests by security forces, while over a hundred were injured. There are also reports of women being raped by members of the armed forces.
Last year, six people were killed by the military in the violence that followed elections on July 30, as demonstrators protested against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s delay in announcing presidential poll results.
Gonese criticised the courts for not affording those brutalised and arrested after the January protests due protection of the law.
“Lawyers have raised serious issues of concern regarding violations of the rights of accused persons such as the right to be treated humanely and with dignity, the right to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest and most importantly not be detained for more than 48 hours before appearing in court,” he said.
“It is bad enough that some victims have been badly assaulted, but for the prosecuting authorities and magistrates to take a cavalier approach and ignore such blatant violations is a new low even for Zimbabwe. This is compounded by what appears to be a choreographed and well-scripted approach, where bail applications are either not entertained or simply dismissed without the batting of an eyelid.
“It is trite law over time immemorial that bail is a right and that where the presumption of innocence operates, courts should lean favour of granting bail as long as the interest of justice would not be prejudiced. But refusing to even hear bail applications on the pretext that the State is ready for trial is unheard of and yet these are the disturbing reports that have been witnessed in our country.”
Gonese said other disturbing aspects were mass trials carried out late in the evening, the arrests of juveniles and falsification of charges.
“Our law gives adequate protection to such vulnerable groups, but sadly, this has been ignored for the expediency of maintaining the façade,” he said.
The MDC top official said the justice delivery system had been found wanting and called upon judicial officers and the prosecution to introspect and reflect upon their oath of office.
“This is not a political, but fundamental issue which lies at the heart of constitutionalism, justice and the rule of law. The game must be played fairly in accordance with the dictates enshrined in our Constitution and ventilated over the years by our courts,” he said.
Gonese said when the legal year opened, Chief Justice Luke Malaba dwelt on the need for the rule of law, which is now being flagrantly disregarded.
South Africa-based Zimbabwean political activist Fortune Mlalazi said the army’s role needed to be defined.
“But now, we are seeing 2002, 2008 political activities that people went through under [former President Robert] Mugabe. We need to be able to define the role of the police and the army. We all know these roles. What it means is that at the moment, the police are now ineffective and useless hence the army has taken over the role of policing, but the policing of it is more in a military style, which is what they think will work in terms of maintaining law and order, but in that act they are being lawless,” Mlalazi said.
“I am tempted to believe that these are political soldiers, many of them are Border Gezi-trained militia who have political inclination rather than constitutional obligations. So we have a huge problem on our hands in terms of abuse and violation of human rights.”
He said there was need for urgent security sector reform.
Zapu spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa said the country had degenerated from Mugabe’s police State to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s military State.
“On that day [November 18, 2017], we missed an opportunity to reclaim from Zanu PF our State institutions that include the military, Judiciary, Legislative and Executive systems,” he said.
“A wrong precedence was set when we allowed the military to openly meddle in politics as we endorsed the coup against Mugabe and failed to immediately return soldiers to the barracks. It was then that we lost the rule of law. We need to collectively reclaim the civilian politics space by making sure the military is removed and civilians occupy the political space and this is possible through the transitional authority that will lead in transforming the constitutional institutions as we prepare for an election that is free and fair.”