ZLHR spearheads SADC Trial Observers Forum

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is spearheading the establishment of a SADC Trial Observers Forum to monitor trials in the region.

Lawyers at the meeting to set up a SADC Trial Observers forum to promote justice in the region.
Lawyers at the meeting to set up a SADC Trial Observers forum to promote justice in the region.

Participants at a human rights monitoring training workshop held here chose ZLHR to spearhead the programme, in its capacity as the secretariat of the SADC Lawyers Association Human Rights Committee.

The plan to set up such a Forum was first mooted in 2007 in Zambia.

Once set up, the different stakeholders, bar associations and law societies and civil society in the rule of law sector would contact the Committee and request for trial observation based on those cases deemed to be a public interest issue of sufficient importance to warrant deployment of trial observers.

The trial observers will be equipped with the skills and knowledge to approach international and regional mechanisms to advance the rights of accused persons in particular human rights defenders.

The training session in Benoni gave participants an opportunity to re-establish a database of SADC experts in trial observation that was established in Zambia four years ago.

Trial observation processes involves sending legal professionals as observers to monitor a trial or other legal proceedings and prepare a report on the fairness of proceedings and adherence to international human rights standards relating to a fair trial.

However, despite its importance, many regional law based organisations, bar associations and law societies have been faced with difficulties in implementing trial observation in the SADC region due to lack of capacity and expertise in trial observation and human rights monitoring, as well as insufficient resources.

ZLHR believes that trial observation may serve as a tool for a broader analysis of the administration of justice, including an assessment of the actual functioning, qualifications and training of the judges, court clerks, prosecutors, lawyers, other court personnel, police, prison officials and other law enforcement personnel.

ZLHR executive director Irene Petras emphasised the primary objectives of trial observation as getting first hand monitoring in order to prepare an independent and impartial report on proceedings.

Petras said a trial observer’s presence made Participants, particularly the judge and prosecutor, aware that they are under scrutiny and this may then influence them to be fair.

The speakers were unanimous that trial observation is one of the ways in which human rights defenders including legal professionals can monitor and expose various inconsistencies and gross human rights violations that would ordinarily be covered up the perpetrators during the pre-trial, trial and post-trial processes of a case.

The two-day training session also initiated the process of producing a comprehensive Manual on Trial Observation for the SADC region.

Post published in: Politics

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