Zim judges under fire for contravening UN rules

Zimbabwe’s judges, notoriously aligned to the Robert Mugabe regime, are under fire for contravening international principles that protect the legal profession, by targeting human rights lawyers.

Nicole Fritz, the Director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, said that recommendations by High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu, that lawyers representing MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai be arrested, are “outrageous.”

Bhunu called for the lawyers to be arrested over statements in Tsvangirai’s High Court application that the “judiciary is not independent from the executive, and politically, from ZANU PF.” Tsvangirai’s application, made in an attempt to secure information from the Electoral Commission, also included the claim that Mugabe appointed numerous judges without consulting him while he was Prime Minister, in violation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

According to Judge Bhunu, these statements amount to an attack on the dignity and integrity of the judiciary.

“It is ironic that Judge Bhunu makes an outrageous punitive order, directed at the lawyers ostensibly to protect the integrity of the judiciary, when there can be no surer way of bringing the courts into disrepute than by having a judge issue orders in clear contravention of the uniformly recognised and upheld principles protecting the legal profession,” Fritz said in an opinion piece published on Thursday.

She explained that the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers stipulate that “lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.” Furthermore, “lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court.”

Fritz said that the calls for the lawyers to be arrested demonstrates that “the elections herald no change, that a culture of repression and authoritarianism is set to continue, and that despite token espousal of the rule of law there will be no meaningful implementation of such an order.”

Fritz went on to accuse Bhunu of using apartheid style legislation to secure the mass detention and criminal charge of a group of MDC-T activists in 2011. The 29 activists have all been charged in connection with the death of police inspector Petros Mutedza in Glen View in 2011.

According to Fritz, the prosecution in the case “relies on the controversial doctrine of ‘common purpose’ to impute liability to the activists – a doctrine that became notorious in apartheid South Africa for its use in targeting persons and groups opposing apartheid.” – SW Radio Africa

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