Approved by the Administrative Board of MEDEL
Prague, June 20-21 2003
With great concern MEDEL (Magistrats Européens pour la démocratie et les libertés) is
following the ongoing political crisis and the destruction of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
With special consternation MEDEL learned that the work of human rights lawyers, legal
practitioners and even magistrates and judges is no more possible according to professional,
democratic and constitutional standards in Zimbabwe.
The independence of the judiciary, the freedom from any harassment or threat for exercise of
the profession as a lawyer – no matter what kind of case is involved - are fundamental
democratic values and standards.
The law should be equal for all, there can be made no difference between political "friends"
and the opposition.
The unjustified detention of judges (like in the case of High Court Judge Paradza) or human
rights lawyers, the intimidation of legal practitioners not to protect or enforce their clients in
human rights issues and the threat against human rights activists by government related forces
in Zimbabwe are therefore strongly criticised by MEDEL.
MEDEL seriously asks the Government of Zimbabwe to undertake everything to ensure that
the rule of law and the constitutional rights of the members of the judiciary and the legal
profession in Zimbabwe are reinstalled and respected .
The judiciary and the legal profession have to be free to serve the people of Zimbabwe with
no regard to party membership or affiliation and to deal with every case that, according to the
laws of the country, is presented to them.
Ignazio Juan Patrone President of MEDEL
To The Law Society of Zimbabwe Mr. Stenford Moyo
South Wing, 5th floor, Lintas House 46 Kwame Nkrumah Ave. P.O. Box 2595
To Mr. Param Cumaraswamy
Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
ZIMBABWE - background
Zimbabwes judges and lawyers have a remarkable tradition of bewaring the rule of law and
the independence of judiciary. Even in the worst apartheid times under the presidency of Ian
Smith in the decades after 1960 the judiciary could defend these values against political
pressure. There were judges who - being strong and independent characters - had enough
courage to take "unpopular" decisions against the interests of the white elites.
Better times came with the victory over the colonial regime, when 1980 Rhodesia became
Zimbabwe. The nomination of John Fielsend as Supreme judge in July 1980 represented a
guarantee for the indipendence of the judiciary.
In the following years there developed a busy and independent judiciary in Zimbabwe.
Though here and there the government tried to influence on decisions, the third power
rejected this and in a whole remained respected by the government
Things changed dramatically with the government crisis in 2000: president Mugabes
government faced - for the first time - a serious opposition (MCD, movement for democratic
change) criticising corruption and the almighty president. Around the Parliament’s elections
of June 2000, the government began to prosecute the opposition and reform forces, helped by
the discontent in a part of the veterans of the independence war. The farms of white owners
were violently and unlawfully taken away, trying to get the support of the black population
for the government party ZANU (PF). Intimidation, torture, murder became normal in
At first the Mugabe government still tried to hold the facade of legality, releasing laws to
incriminate the opposition. The courts had to control these acts of manipulation of elections,
violation of property rights of white farmers, the measures against a free press, organisations
of the civil society or organized protest. These times saw a series of spectacular court
decisions, making the mighty very angry. So the pressure on judges grew, some were forced
to retire, threatened personally or terrorizing their families, the Supreme Court was filled with
conformist judges. Magistrates (=non professional judges) were attacked an injured in the
court rooms by ZANU groups for having stopped the detention of white farmers.
2003 Benjamin Paradza, a High Court judge, was arrested while doing his work and
brought to investigative detention. The Minister of Justice, Chinamasa, is of no help at all,
being a member of the government party.
The courts have become an arena for political fight and not all judges are able to resist these
pressures. The courts rules, too, present problems, because the courts presidents can assign
single cases to selected judges or chambers, with the effect that politically sensible cases get
assigned to conformist colleagues. There is a lack of strong professional organisations.
Though some judges in Zimbabwe beheld a high level of professionalism and independence.
Together with excellent lawyers they go on criticising the government and compiling