High Court ruling must be hailed

We regard last week’s High Court judgement compelling two police officers to compensate a victim of harassment a landmark ruling, for obvious reasons. The two constables from Epworth were ordered to pay the $3,000 for which the victim of harassment had applied.

Paul Bogaert
Paul Bogaert

He was handcuffed and assaulted at Epworth police station by the two when he dared challenge their superior officer. The two were sued in their personal capacities.

The ruling is significant at various levels. First, it sends out a strong signal to members of the law enforcement agency that gone are the days when they could persecute innocent citizens and suspected criminals at will. As we all know, the last 15 years or so has been littered with this kind of persecution.

Far too many members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) tended to employ extra-judicial tactics whenever they wanted to fix people. This included unwarranted arrest, malicious detention, denial of basic rights during detention and torture. Most of the time, the police officers used these tactics to settle personal scores or for political reasons or to curry favour with those in high office.

In some cases, the police officers maimed and even killed their victims. What is particularly worrying is that they were never brought to book. The ZRP tended to protect and shield them. Furthermore, all courageous victims ended up having to sue collectively, naming the Commissioner of Police and the Home Affairs Minister as respondents. Hardly ever did the actual perpetrators face the charges directly or in their personal capacities.

Even when they could succeed in claiming compensation, it was extremely difficult for victims to be given restitution because they ended having to make their claims against government departments which, technically, could not provide the required monetary or material redress.

Now that the new constitution provides for lawsuits against police officers, it is hoped that they will think twice before they engage in their excesses. The ruling acts as a deterrent to the overzealous officers. It must herald a new era whereby citizens’ rights and freedoms are respected.

In this regard, it is vital for civil society organisations and human rights defenders to mount a massive campaign to educate people on this ruling, what the law says and how victims must proceed whenever they feel that their rights have been violated through torture, harassment and other illegal acts by the police. Without this kind of education, many will remain in the dark and the police might continue harassing us. We need a civilised police force and a democratic Zimbabwe and this ruling must feed into that.

Post published in: Editor: Wilf Mbanga

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