The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is extremely concerned by reports of alleged serious human rights violations and the continued commission of atrocities by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. In particular, SALC is concerned with in the recent arbitrary arrest of Obert Masaraure, the President of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), and the assault on Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer and ARTUZ board member.
Masaraure was arrested on Saturday 23 November 2019 by police officers whilst merely standing in the street and directing his wife into a parking bay, he was accused of having disrupted the traffic and was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Coltart, was severely assaulted by several police at Harare Central Police Station after he attempted to offer his legal services to Masaraure. According to reliable sources, Coltart was assaulted by several police officers who used boot-clad feet, shin pads and batons to attack him. He suffered severe physical injuries due to this assault. This is not the first time the Zimbabwe Police have attacked Coltart whilst is in the course and scope of his duties as a human rights lawyer, he has faced harassment from the police numerous times, including being unlawfully arrested, detained and tortured in August 2019.
Section 219 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that the Zimbabwe Republic Police is established for the purpose of preserving internal security and maintaining law and order, and that in the performance of their duties, police officials are meant to respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons. However despite national laws, the police brutality against civilians, lawyers and journalists, continues with impunity. Under the rule of the current ruling party, the police have reportedly assaulted, killed, abducted, tortured, and raped civilians in Zimbabwe with no repercussions for their actions. Police officers continue to have a serious lack of regard for the implications of their actions due an entrenched culture of impunity.
The assault on Coltart is in clear violation of several provisions of the Constitution, including section 219, which mandate the Police Service to protect and secure the lives of people and which prohibits police officers from violating the fundamental rights or freedoms of people, as well as section 53, which provide that no person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the arrest of Masaraure, is in violation of section 49 and 50 of the Constitution which guarantees that a person is not be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or without just cause and that an arrested person is to be informed of the reason of his arrest at the time, and to consult with a legal practitioner without delay.
On the 20th November 2019, the police used batons, tear gas and water cannons to beat up and disperse citizens who had gathered peacefully in the capital city, in support of Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The rising tension between civilians and police is a pressing issue of concern to both Zimbabwean citizens as well as the international community. In light of this, we urge the Government of Zimbabwe to respect the rule of law as provided for in their domestic laws and to take measures in line with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. We furthermore call on the Government to comply with Article 1 and 5 of the African Charter to ensure that the police force respect the dignity inherent in the individual during the discharge of their duties in the maintenance of law and order, and furthermore, to implement the resolutions of the African Commission on the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Robben Island Guidelines). Lastly, we urge the Government to set up an independent complaints mechanism as provided for in section 210 of the 2013 constitution to ensure that police officials do not continue to act with impunity.