SADC LA sends an observation mission to Zimbabwean courts

March 5th, 2019
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Chief Executive Officer of the Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association (SADC LA) , Stanley Nyamanhindi, told De Rebus that the SADC LA established a committee to facilitate a review of cases in Zimbabwe that were set to have been fast-tracked, following arrests that were made after a stay-away protest turned violent in Zimbabwe in January.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association (SADC LA) has established a committee to facilitate a review of cases in Zimbabwe that were set to have been fast-tracked, following arrests that were made after a stay-away protest turned violent in Zimbabwe in January. The Chief Executive Officer of the SADC LA, Stanley Nyamanhindi, told De Rebus, that following the stay-away protest by civilians, which was organised by lawyers in Zimbabwe, the SADC LA was concerned about the reports that several people were arrested after the army and police were unleashed on the protestors. He added that those who were arrested were taken to court where their trials were fast-tracked. The trials took an average of 12 hours to complete and one person would receive a sentence of approximately six- or seven-years imprisonment.

Mr Nyamanhindi pointed out that the trials were happening on a systemic basis because the magistrates were refusing bail to the accused persons and some of the accused were incorporated into mass trials, as many as 61 people in one trial. He added that given that the trials were going very fast, there was no prospect of due process, in that lawyers who were trying to represent the accused were not given enough time to mount defence outlines and to represent the accused correctly. ‘We realise that there is a strong chance of a miscarriage of justice and it was necessary to despatch an original contingent that was going to do an emergency trial observation mission,’ Mr Nyamanhindi said.

He said the mission was dispatched with two mandates, which was for trial observation and the delivery of a message of solidarity to the lawyers in Zimbabwe. He added that as members of the legal profession the SADC LA is trying to show support to the lawyers in Zimbabwe and also wants to understand how much support they need. ‘We have to understand that it is necessary to follow all of these cases through a pro bono exercise. SADC LA has a network of pro bono attorneys, which the Law Society of Zimbabwe is a strong part of and has commenced,’ Mr Nyamanhindi added.

Mr Nyamanhindi said in addition representatives will also be a part of a strong fact finding mission. He noted that the SADC LA met with the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission in Zimbabwe, Walter Chikwana; Prosecutor-General in Zimbabwe, Kumbirai Hodzi; Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Roselyn Hanzi; Executive Secretary of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Edward Mapara; and lawyers from the organisation, Zimbabwe Human Rights. He added that a report is currently being compiled, which they hope will be published very soon, and the report will be balanced and give findings and recommendations on the way forward in Zimbabwe.

Mr Nyamanhindi said they have also established a team of researchers, which includes final year law students who are recording each case of violence that passes through the courts in Zimbabwe. ‘We want to make sure that all of these cases are put on review as fast as possible, because from what we observed in the Hight Court registry, all the cases where people were able to afford a lawyer, go on appeal and they were acquitted or given bail, which means something must have been a miss with the way the magistrate’s court were treating these cases,’ Mr Nyamanhindi said.

Mr Nyamanhindi pointed out that the observer mission is on two levels, with the immediate level being the presence of observers in the courts. He said that with court observations, magistrates were beginning to become aware of the attention the region has on the courts of Zimbabwe. He added that magistrates started to follow due process and that those who were tried immediately benefitted from due process and had been given their immediate rights. ‘We did not notice those irregularities of people being rushed, magistrates being rude to lawyers, among other things. Although we got reports of those things happening before we came, we believe that our presence immediately enabled the due process to be switched on again,’ My Nyamanhindi added.

‘In the long run the idea is to make sure that all the people who went through trial, there is a review to make sure that justice was done because of the allegations around not following due process. We need to make sure that lawyers give back to the community through the pro bono network,’ Mr Nyamanhindi said. He pointed out that the SADC LA wants to assist the lawyers in Zimbabwe work with other stakeholders in Zimbabwe, such as the Judicial Commission Services, the office of the Prosecutor-General, police and prisons to make sure that cases are tried on review as expeditiously as they were tried on the first instance of trial. He added that the SADC LA hopes that all cases will be urgently reviewed within March.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.