Wendy Muperi • 14 December 2014
HARARE – Three lawyers who represented Tokwe-Mukorsi flood victims have scooped the Human Rights of the Year award.
Collins Maboke, Phillip Shumba and Martin Mureri were honoured on Friday at a colourful ceremony hosted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) at a top Harare hotel.
Abel Chikomo, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director, said the trio have handled the sensitive case well.
“These have been representing the Tokwe-Mukorsi flood victims, among them old people and very young children uprooted from their homes.
“Their victory cannot be over-emphasised. Twenty five of the 29 victims were released this Monday,” he said.
In February 2014, the Zimbabwe army relocated 3 000 families from the flooded Tokwe-Mukorsi dam basin to the Chingwizi transit camp in Mwenezi district, Masvingo province, about 150 kilometres away from where they lived.
The displaced people were not consulted about their relocation site, as required under international standards, and were later forced from the transit camp onto plots.
The lawyers took up the case when the flood victims were charged with public violence after an altercation with police officers over botched resettlement procedures.
Coinciding with International Human Rights Day, the commemorations were this year held under the theme “Human Rights 365” and spoke to observance of human rights in their totality, inclusively and every time.
Chikomo said the country’s human rights record was still far from being impressive despite the progressive and elaborate Bill of Rights in the new supreme law.
“We still have on our statute books, laws that clearly violate the principles and tenets of the constitution, citizens continue to be subjected to arbitrary evictions and or demolitions of their houses.
“There is a lot of talk about realignment of laws but that remains just that — talk,” Chikomo said.
Gabriela Knaul, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, said the independence of the judiciary is critical in upholding the rule of law.
“Whenever human rights are violated, prosecutors are persecuted and it means the rule of law is at risk. The principle of the independence of the judiciary does not exist for the benefit of judges but to prevent human beings from being subjected to abuse of power,” she said in a lecture.
ZLHR executive director Irene Petras said 2014 has been a “difficult year for everyone” working in the human rights sector.