Posts Tagged ‘Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’

A woman who defends human rights: Irene Petras in Zimbabwe

May 22, 2015

Irene-Petras

Irene Petras is the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). She told Protection International (on 14 April 2015) about the context in which human rights defenders must work in Zimbabwe.

Irene joined ZLHR in 2002 and has been its Executive Director since 2008. The organisation provides legal support services to the public through its in-house lawyers and its 200 members around the country. The organisation also engages in training and capacity building. The organisation meets with its members at least once a year to review their programmes and seeks to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe and the wider African region.

Protection International: What was your personal motivation to engage in the defence of human rights?

Irene Petras: When I first started working, I was employed in private practice in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. In my daily interactions with the justice delivery system, I found that there were a lot of barriers for human rights defenders to access this system, in terms of high legal fees and a lack of lawyers that would actually understand the work of the defenders. That motivated me to start working for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and really focus on this type of work.

It can be difficult at times to keep motivated. Particularly around election periods the work can be dangerous. The support and solidarity of other human rights lawyers keep me going. On the other hand, setbacks can also give me the motivation to continue and fight. At the moment, we have a new constitution (which came into effect in May 2013) with a lot of developments within the protection of accused persons and an expanded Bill of Rights. This has also renewed my energy as well as that of the organisation to focus more on protecting human rights defenders and promote social and economic rights, which were not constitutionally protected before.

PI: Can you say something about the context that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights work in?

IP: Of course, our members are lawyers who often work in the public eye due to the nature of the cases that they handle and the human rights defenders they represent. For this reason, they are subjected to surveillance, and have sometimes been assaulted or at times arrested and maliciously prosecuted whilst working on cases and interacting with people in various state institutions. There is a range of different ways that the lawyers have been targeted because of their work trying to defend human rights. For example, some have been arrested, charged with contempt of court or obstructing the course of justice, under a range of repressive laws. Of course, none of these prosecutions have been successful.

Criminalisation has become a force of habit for some of the state actors. Instead of rationalising their behaviour and seeing other people as human beings who are exercising their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, they immediately resort to violations and use of laws and measures that criminalise the work of defenders. As they are not prosecuted or punished for such behaviour, I believe that’s why they keep using these tactics.

In fact, however, such tactics don’t really work; our cases advocating for human rights defenders have been very successful and in almost every single case we have handled since the project started in 2003, our clients have been acquitted.

Even though we’ve not had many human rights defenders convicted, they keep getting arrested and criminalised in other ways. The logical explanation for this continuation is that criminalisation is a means of retaining in power and that actors use these methods to try and stop civil society from calling for transparency and accountability for the actions state actors take as public officials.

……

PI: Do you see a difference in the way that male and female defenders are criminalised in Zimbabwe?

IP: On a general level, all human rights work can be criminalised, whether a man or a woman does the work. Having said that, there have been additional burdens for women defenders.

Zimbabwe has a very patriarchal society so there is a lot of pushback on women human rights defenders. The public opinion is that these women shouldn’t be getting out on the streets to demand their social and economic rights or becoming involved in legitimate political activity. …

PI: How are Zimbabwean WHRDs and organisations responding to criminalisation? 

IP: There have been different strategies. A lot has been linked to improving rights literacy and the importance of women participating in the society, be it at local or at national level. It is also important to have the ability to access a safety and security system that will allow the women to continue their work when an emergency has passed. In case of such an emergency, you need to be prepared with a good legal, medical, psychosocial response, as well as a welfare system. So when you’re in custody for some time, someone can take care of the children while you’re away.

…….

PI: Is it possible to prevent being criminalised in a context like that of Zimbabwe?

IP: We try to make the cost of criminalisation so high, that the perpetrators (whether at state or non-state level) reform or choose not to use these strategies. You’re increasing the cost if there’s legal defence for defenders and you’re able to be successful in these cases. You do this as well by showing a pattern of selective use of repressive legislation and publicising those trends and the identities of people that perpetrate such acts. Naming and shaming makes clear that the defender is not actually a criminal, but someone whose fundamental rights are being suppressed in a very systematic manner…

“We may not be able to change the habits of adults, who are set in their ways, but there is an opportunity to change the mind-set of how young people view human rights and they can become a real force for good.”

…..

PI: Do you want to share your hopes and dreams for the future?

IP: I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t hopeful. There’s a joke that Zimbabweans are hopelessly hopeful. There is a very dedicated, vibrant human rights community in Zimbabwe with courageous people defending human rights. I hope that we continue to grow this network. You don’t want people to become so despondent that they give up. I think it’s important for us to continue and look for new ways of doing our work and how we can engage with people that we haven’t engaged with before….

More on her and other Women Who Defend Human Rights – Irene PetrasProtection International.

Itai Dzamara’s disappearance worrying for all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe

May 5, 2015

On 4 May 2015 Bridget Mananavire of Nehanda Radio in Zimbabwe marked 54 days since the disappearance of human rights activist and journalist, Itai Dzamara, with law enforcement agents continuing to profess ignorance over his whereabouts.

Abducted political activist Itai Dzamara
Human rights defender Itai Dzamara, abducted on 9 March by yet unidentified men

Rashid Mahiya, Heal Zimbabwe Trust executive director, said the government’s silence raised suspicion: “Itai Dzamara’s disappearance raises a distressing sense of insecurity among many human rights defenders in the country. The government’s silence vindicates speculation that its security agencies are responsible for Itai’s abduction and disappearance”…….”the State has a presence of abducting citizens, active opposition and human rights leaders and activists, some of whom disappeared and were never found while others were later discovered in police custody. Jestina Mukoko was abducted in 2008 and later discovered in police custody after 21 days while persons like Tonderai Ndira, Betha Chokururama were found dead,”.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the truth about Dzamara’s disappearance should be revealed so that the perpetrators face their judgment.

The European Union Delegation to Zimbabwe also reminded people that the human rights defender should never be forgotten, calling for his return.

‘Dzamara’s unending abduction worrying’ – Nehanda Radio.

Zimbabwe celebrates by arresting 2 women per day over the last two years

March 8, 2015

Of all the stories that reach us at the occasion of International Women’s Day this is perhaps the most astonishing:

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says 1390 women human rights defenders were arrested over the past 24 months.

ZLHR said the women activists were arrested for either staging street protests or petitioning and litigating government with the aim of pressing for political, social and economic rights. Beatrice Mtetwa said: “When these women were arrested they were trying to assert their rights as women first and foremost and as citizens of Zimbabwe”.

Zimbabwe Peace Project National Director Jestina Mukoko said women activists were not enemies of the state. “I do not know why the state thinks that we will be fighting against them. We do not intend to fight against the state but to remind them that we are people whose rights are being violated….But by just reminding them to recognize and respect people’s rights you will find yourself in jail,” [NewZimbabwe.com]

The event on Friday also saw the launching of a book titled “In Their Capacity as Human Rights Defenders: Women”.

ZLHR: 1 400 women arrested in 2 yrs.

Battered Lawyer Wins Zimbabwe Law Society Award

November 18, 2014

Kennedy Masiye

RadioVop in Zimbabwe reported on 14 November 2014 that Kennedy Masiye, a human rights lawyer who was brutally assaulted by the police recently, has been honoured by the Law Society of  Zimbabwe (LSZ) for his outstanding contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.

Masiye, a senior project lawyer with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) was named as the human rights lawyer of the year 2014 at the LSZ’s Summer School held in Nyanga last week. Masiye could not attend the award ceremony as he was detained in hospital (see picture above) recovering from acts of police brutality meted on him while in the course of discharging his professional duties.

[The LSZ’s human rights award is sponsored by Scanlen and Holderness Legal Practitioners and targets junior to mid-career lawyers under 35 years of age]

Masiye has represented and secured acquittals for several human rights defenders in the country including some former farm workers and villagers facing eviction from their living quarters.

I am humbled by the award. At least the work that I am doing as a human rights lawyer is being recognised by the legal fraternity. ZLHR has enabled me to explore my potential in the human rights field. The award is an icing on the cake given the work that we have being doing at ZLHR,” said Masiye.

RadioVop Zimbabwe – Battered Lawyer Wins Zim Law Society Award.

New series of awards for Human Rights Defenders in Africa

August 22, 2013

Although the deadline for nominations (15 August) has passed, I still want to draw your attention to a new series of human rights awards instituted by Pan-African HRDs Network (PAHRD-Net), which in turn is made up of five sub-regional networks i.e. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network hosted by the International Commission of Jurists and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and Central African Human Rights Defenders Network.

The new awards aim to honour exceptional individuals who peacefully promote and protect universally recognized rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Altogether six awards will be presented, one Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award and five sub-regional awards:

– East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Award 2013

– West Africa Human Rights Defenders Award 2013

– Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Award 2013

– Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Award 2013

– Northern Africa Human Rights Defenders Award 2013

Both individuals and organizations are eligible.  Awards include support to the human rights work of the winning individual or organisation with a total value of 10 000 USD for the Pan-African award winner and 5 000 USD for each sub-regional award winners. The winners will be selected by an independent jury. Nominations should be returned to: hrdaward@defenddefenders.org.

The awards will be presented to the winners at the occasion of the 54th Ordinary Session of the Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights scheduled to be held in October 2013 in Banjul, The Gambia.

allAfrica.com: Africa: Call for Nominations – Pan African HRD Award 2013.

 

Zimbabwe: Human Rights Defenders hunted through the criminal process in run up to referendum

March 9, 2013

Jestina Mukoko with letters from Amnesty International members

(Jestina Mukoko with letters from AI members © Amnesty International)

15 Zimbabwean Civil Society Organizations, on 9 March 2013 issued a joint statement condemning the sustained and escalating assault on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision by the State. The cite as the latest example the charging of Jestina Mukoko on which AI issued a separate alert on 8 March:  “Prominent Zimbabwe human rights defender hunted down through the media”.
The criminalization of the work of civil society by the Government of National Unity is in direct contradiction with the letter and Spirit of the Global Political Agreement. It appears to us that the persecution of Jestina, who is not at anytime a fugitive from justice, is a direct victimization of an individual, who has been a victim of abduction by State security agents. State actions against Jestina were condemned by the Supreme Court and her prosecution quashed. Read the rest of this entry »

Mugabe keeps up the pressure on human rights defenders in Zimbabwe

February 14, 2013

Zimbabwe figures unpleasantly often in this blog. Last month it was the arrest of Okay Machisa, the director of ZimRights (since been freed on bail), and the police raid on the Zimrights office before that. Now AFP reports that the Zimbabwe police on 12 February raided the offices of another prominent human rights NGO, the Zimbabwe Peace Project. ” Read the rest of this entry »