Courts closure and typhoid outbreak-a result of official and criminal negligence

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expresses its concerns over the closure of the Harare Magistrates Court on Friday 10 February 2012 following a suspected typhoid fever outbreak.

According to media reports which were verified with and confirmed by court officials, court sittings were suspended on Friday 10 February 2012 after a suspected typhoid fever outbreak and prolonged water outages at the building housing one of the country’s “court of first instance,” where matters including those seeking to protect human rights can be directly brought before the judiciary.

The typhoid outbreak which is wrecking havoc in most high density suburbs and the water shortages are a result of official and criminal negligence that has brought despair to court officials, families, communities and the nation at large.

The development is an embarrassing sign of the state of collapse and dire situation in the country and adds to a numberless list of many state institutions like hospitals and universities that have been operating without adequate water among other economic ills facing the country.

The closure of the court-a vehicle for protecting human rights seriously undermines the enjoyment of the constitutionally recognized right of protection of the law for litigants, detainees, and even convicted prisoners whose matters are on appeal who have to suffer from the consequences that are not of their making.

Working in such buildings is a health hazard to magistrates, prosecutors, clerks, court officials and members of the public who have continued to be exposed to nearly inhumane conditions that have characterized Rotten Row court, for a while. The state and indeed government is obliged to ensure the existence, functioning, efficiency and effectiveness of such courts and tribunals as the Harare Magistrates Court.

The closure of the Harare Magistrates Court undermines the rights of lawyers, detainees and even convicted prisoners whose matters were on appeal and could not be heard.

It is alarming and quite unusual for such a preventable and medieval disease to continue to incommode people in this day and age.

Human health and quality of life are at the centre of international efforts to develop sustainable communities and countries. Good health throughout the life-span of every man, woman and child are fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to participate fully in the social, economic and political processes of their communities and country.

ZLHR holds the coalition government, and through it the Harare City Council and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), accountable for the typhoid fever epidemic and the disruption to court business as they have failed to provide basic health services, medical treatment and services, clean running water and sanitary surrounds to people in high density suburbs (and other areas) so as to adequately respond to and contain the spread of the avoidable disease. The failure by the government to swiftly respond to the typhoid epidemic is an unacceptable failure of leadership.

These wanton infections are intolerable and shameful, and the State’s failure is merely a replication of other high level failures, where the citizenry has now been disenfranchised of almost all their basic human rights.

ZLHR reminds the government that human rights relating to health are set out in many international and regional human rights instruments such as Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights amongst others and, as a State Party to these, the government of Zimbabwe is obliged to ensure the realization of these rights. Failure by the government to guarantee and respect citizens’ right to health thus amounts to a serious violation of both local and international law.

It is therefore essential to take a holistic approach to the realization of the right to health whereby both prevention and care are placed at the centre of the health delivery system in the country.

In the circumstances, ZLHR calls upon the government including local authorities as well as ZINWA to:

• Immediately take swift and visible corrective measures to prevent further outbreaks of typhoid, contain the epidemic, and prevent further outbreaks.

• Take urgent action to ensure that all affected people obtain urgent medical assistance and treatment.

• Provide clean running water and sanitary environs to affected communities and others at risk to halt the spread of the disease.

• ZLHR calls upon the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and relevant authorities to ensure that the Harare Magistrates Court and indeed all courts in Zimbabwe are given all the necessary tools and essentials to enable them to function properly, timeously and effectively in exercising their judicial authority.

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