The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, SALC, is deeply concerned about the recent assault on Obey Shava, a prominent Zimbabwean human rights lawyer. Shava was reportedly violently attacked on the evening of 5 July and is hospitalized with severe injuries. The assailant[s] responsible for the attack has not yet been apprehended.
Obey Shava is affiliated with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and has been providing legal representation to activists from the Zimbabwe opposition party Citizens’ Coalition for Change who have faced charges related to crimes against the state. On 4 July, the day before the incident, two of these activists were acquitted.
Protecting the freedom of speech, including the safety of lawyers who advocate for dissenting voices, is a fundamental pillar of upholding democracy in any country. According to Section 16 of the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments are responsible for ensuring that lawyers “can perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.” The Principles also emphasize safeguarding lawyers when their security is threatened.
Human rights defenders, in particular, are at increased risk due to their crucial roles in promoting and protecting human rights. They often become targets of violence because of their work. Throughout the region, there has been a surge in violence and threats against human rights defenders, particularly in the dawn of upcoming general elections.
The attack on Shava occurred 49 days before Zimbabwe’s general elections scheduled for 23 August 2023. As the elections draw nearer, Zimbabwe needs to prioritize the safety of its citizens. This includes ensuring that lawyers and human rights defenders can openly advocate for human rights without fear of retaliation and violence.
SALC urges the government of Zimbabwe to lead by example in the region and demonstrate what a free and fair election entails. Officials must uphold the rule of law and conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the brutal attack on Obey Shava. The state must also take necessary measures to protect lawyers and human rights defenders to maintain the proper functioning of a democratic society.