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Top Zimbabwe Judge Says Justice System Has Collapsed


The president of the High Court of Zimbabwe, Judge Rita Makarau has broken tradition and issued a stinging criticism of President Robert Mugabe's administration. The judge has accused the president of starving the state legal system of resources and undermining democracy. As Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA, Judge Makarau says the lack of funding has crippled the justice system.

Judge Rita Makarau has told the public what many Zimbabweans have long claimed, that the justice system fails to deliver on its constitutional obligations.

She was speaking to a crowd that included top politicians from the ruling ZANU PF, members of the legal profession, and diplomats Monday at the opening of Zimbabwe's 2007 High Court year.

She said that in one province, the court has failed to even hear charges laid against more than 100 people accused of murder in the past two years.

Judge Makarau, the first woman to be appointed to such high legal office told the audience, "It is wrong by nature to make the judiciary beg for its sustenance."

She said court functionaries, and the lower courts, often had to do without basic necessities, such as stationary. She added that corruption was rampant throughout the government judicial system because of poor salaries.

Judge Makarau said people suspected of committing crimes were locked up in inhuman and degrading conditions. She said state witnesses are often brought to court from far away places, given no food to eat, and paid less than a fraction of a U.S. cent per day for their commitment to justice.

She also slammed the wealthy in Zimbabwe, who she said sought medical treatment or education for their children overseas, because local services had collapsed.

This unprecedented criticism was published on the front page of the state-controlled Herald newspaper. Officials from the Mugabe government had no public comment.

Veteran human-rights lawyer David Coltart, the founding legal spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the reason for the impoverishment of the justice system is because the ruling ZANU PF "does not care about justice and only tolerates the Judiciary in so far as it serves its purposes."

He said since 2000, the law, and the justice system have been used as a weapon against legitimate democratic opposition and spurious charges have been brought against opposition leaders, activists and supporters."

Coltart said judges delayed politically sensitive matters such as electoral petitions and applications for the release of activists, including legislators, which caused serious miscarriages of justice.

He also pointed out that many judges have compromised their independence by confiscating and occupying white-owned farms seized from commercial farmers.

He said many former judges were forced out of office by the ZANU PF government because they tried to uphold the rule of law.

Coltart said the government chose to starve the justice system, as it continued to generously fund institutions of repression, such as the Central Intelligence Organization.

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