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Zimbabwe's Lawyers Withdraw From Justice Conference


Zimbabwe's Lawyers Withdraw From Justice Conference
Zimbabwe's Lawyers Withdraw From Justice Conference

Zimbabwe's main professional associations, including the law society and "Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights", will not attend a conference organized by the ZANU-PF-controlled justice ministry. The withdrawal of the professional groups represents a serious blow to the fragile unity government.

A government-sponsored conference, scheduled to get underway Thursday in Victoria Falls, was to be the first of its kind since the unity government came to power in February. Delegates were to discuss access to justice for all Zimbabweans and the systems through which justice is delivered in Zimbabwe.

But Zimbabwe lawyers' associations say selective prosecutions, arbitrary arrests, detention of human rights defenders and abuse of the constitution continue unabated in Zimbabwe. They say they will not attend the conference.

The lawyers groups charge the continued abuse of the rule of law indicates state institutions and personnel in the department of justice remain unwilling to seriously address flaws that threaten the breakdown of the justice system. They say this further erodes public confidence in the country justice system.

The systems of justice are controlled by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Patrick Chinamasa, a senior member of ZANU-PF, is minister of justice and another party loyalist, Johannes Tomana was appointed attorney-general after the Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF signed a political agreement a year ago.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai stopped attending Cabinet meetings with ZANU-PF citing violations of the political agreement, including selective prosecutions.

Human-rights groups say that since the political agreement was signed scores of human-rights activists, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), supporters, journalists, and lawyers have been kidnapped, allegedly tortured, and arrested.

Since the unity government was formed in February seven MDC legislators have been arrested, charged and three found guilty in remote rural courts in cases which the MDC says were designed to strip it of its narrow parliamentary majority.

A senior human-rights lawyer Alex Muchadahama is facing trial after he was arrested while attending to a client's bail, at the Harare High Court, on allegations of obstructing or defeating the course of justice.

The Commercial Farmers' Union says more than 150 remaining white farmers, about half those still on their land, are on trial for trespass. One, Marnie Grove, said he was told by ZANU-PF defense minister Emmerson Mnangagwa he had to get off his land immediately because he had sought and received protection from the Southern Africa Development Community's legal tribunal, a court of last resort for the regions' citizens.

On Sunday the two most senior officials of the umbrella body representing all Zimbabwe's non government organizations were arrested in Victoria Falls and are now out on bail.

The MDC says on Tuesday evening an official from its Harare head office was arrested at his home by unidentified men in an unmarked vehicle. The party says another escaped after her kidnappers were overcome by people in the streets in central Harare.

Also in Zimbabwe, there was the last minute withdrawal of a visa for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, who was due for his first "consultative" mission to Zimbabwe.

ZANU-PF officials in foreign affairs informed him that his visit was not possible as the government will be in talks Thursday with the SADC troika on security, defense and politics.

The United Nations said Nowak is not convinced this meeting is a valid reason for canceling his eight-day mission "at such a late stage."

Attempts by VOA to reach Mr. Chinamasa and Mr. Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba were unsuccessful.