Lead Photo by UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) made a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr. Diego García-Sayán, to call his attention to the undermining of judicial independence in Zimbabwe.
The letter raises concerns over growing influence of the President Mnangagwa led executive branch on the judiciary which, the undersigned organizations argue, is in violation of international and regional standards, threatens the integrity of the judiciary, and furthers public distrust in the system. In May 2021, the president signed into law Constitutional Amendment No. 2, which gives him significant power and control over the judiciary – blurring the boundaries between the two separate and coequal branches of government – including by enabling him to extend the tenure of the Chief Justice who was set to reach retirement age later that month, and providing the President with “unchecked authority” to fill the seats of the three most senior judges in the country. Additional issues detailed in the letter include the stifling of judges’ rights to freedom of expression and association, executive oversight of individual judges, corruption, and retaliation against those speaking out against threats to judicial independence. All of these actions, taken together, represent a serious threat to the administration of justice, human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe.
‘Judicial independence is a prerequisite for the protection of human rights, respect for the rule of law, effective democratic governance and social stability’, said Ikechukwu Uzoma, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. ‘By attacking the independence of the judiciary, Zimbabwe’s Executive and Legislative branches threaten the growth, development and advancement of the country’, he added.
These actions of the Mnangagwa government are inconsistent with Zimbabwean’s right to a hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal as established in international and regional human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Zimbabwe is a party, states that, “everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Similarly, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which is binding on Zimbabwe requires State Parties to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC remarked ‘Recent developments in Zimbabwe and their impact on the independence of the judiciary is deeply concerning. Judges must be free to exercise their judicial powers without interference, fear of reprisals or censure. The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary note the duty of the state to guarantee judicial independence as should be enshrined in the Constitution of the country. President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government’s direct, brazen attacks to diminish this need to be challenged’.
The undersigned organisations call on the United Nations to urgently intervene, and urge the Mnangagwa administration to fully respect and guarantee judicial independence and the separation of powers in Zimbabwe, including by: refraining from interfering with the decisions of judicial officers; respecting independent and transparent processes for the appointment, dismissal and extension of tenure of judges, without executive interference; respecting the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly of members of the Judiciary; repealing Constitutional Amendment No. 2; refraining from passing into law Constitutional Amendment No.1; and by repealing/ refraining from adopting, all other laws, rules, policies and practices that will restrict judicial independence.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights