Who guards the guards?

Introducing the Anti-Impunity Update

A soldier fires shots towards demonstrators in Zimbabwe on August 1 2018, as protests erupted over alleged fraud in the country’s election. PHOTO | ZINYANGE AUNTONY | AFP

 

Introduction

Back in 2006, we published a report titled, Who guards the guards: Violations by Law Enforcement Agencies in Zimbabwe, 2000 to 2006 in which we documented violations committed by law enforcement agents. Over a dozen years later, we are still witnessing the entities that are constituted to protect the people being at the fore front of violating human rights.
In the said report, we noted that a democratic state is one in which the government respects human rights, will freely allow democratic activity, and whose law enforcement agencies will try to protect all persons against violation of their rights, regardless of the political affiliation of the people involved. We noted that the role of the police in a democracy is summed up in Article 1 of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials as follows :
“Law enforcement officials shall at all times fulfill the duty imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.” (This Code was adopted by General Assembly Resolution 34/169 of 17 December 1979)Over a dozen years later, in post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, the so called new dispensation, the message in that report and our concerns remain true.  On 6 February 2019, we released our latest report ‘In the Days of Darkness’ in which we documented the atrocities committed during the Shutdown stayaways between 14 January and 5 February 2019. Topping the list of violators again are the people in uniforms. Out of the 17 people who were killed during the crackdown on protests, 13 people were killed by the security forces.  There other 3 could also have been killed by the security forces. They are responsible for preserving life, and yet they are leading in the taking of life, hence the same question comes back to us: Who guards the guards?

What must be done?
Section 210 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of an Independent Complaints Mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services, and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct.  Almost six years since the Constitution came into operation, this section has not been implemented. Section 324 of the Constitution states that all constitutional obligations must be performed diligently and without delay.  By not bringing to Parliament the Independent Complaints Mechanism Bill, government is in breach of section 324 of the constitution. Implementing section 210 will go a long way towards dismantling impunity and holding perpetrators to account.

What we are doing about it

In the absence of an official mechanism to deal with violations of human rights by security services, civil society is stepping into the gap.  Members of the public can be part of this push for accountability by reporting all violations of human rights by the security forces on the toll free numbers below.

During the shutdown, we received dozens of reports against the security forces. By the time of this update, we have since issued at least twenty-three (23) Notices of Intention to sue the State for the unlawful actions of the military and police during the stay-away which took place from the 14th of January 2019.  The notices have been issued in terms of Section 6 of the State Liabilities Act (Chapter 8:14).

The twenty-three (23) have raised various misdemeanours, including torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, assault, deprivation of liberty and alleged theft.  Several of these victims sustained injuries to the body and suffered damages.

While members of the security forces appeared to be acting within the course and scope of their employment when they committed the misdemeanours stated above, we reiterate that individual security officers will have to account fully for their illegal actions as it is an indisputable fact that international criminal law has narrowed the scope of the defence of superior orders. Even domestic practices show that manifestly illegal orders should not be obeyed.

We will keep you updated on the progress.

It is only by holding perpetrators to account that we can end the culture of impunity.

Who guards the guards? The law must.  But it needs ordinary people who are victims or witnesses of these violations to take action.

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