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The illusion of Fairness: How the Zimbabwean justice system fails minorities

15 May 2023 at 11:16hrs | Views
The Zimbabwean justice system is meant to be a pillar of fairness and impartiality. It is supposed to dispense justice to all Zimbabweans irrespective of their race, gender, ethnicity or social status. Unfortunately, over the years, the justice system has failed to live up to its creed, especially when it comes to minorities.

Minorities in Zimbabwe, especially those who constitute less than the majority, are often subject to discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. They are often denied access to justice, exploited and abused by powerful individuals and institutions, and their rights are disregarded. This is not only unjust, but it undermines the rule of law, and erodes public confidence in the justice system.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe enshrines various provisions that guarantee equal rights and protection for all citizens. For instance, Section 56 provides for the right to equality and non-discrimination, while Section 56 sets out the right to equal protection before the law. However, despite these constitutional guarantees, minorities in Zimbabwe have not enjoyed full protection of their rights.

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which is meant to ensure that the justice system is fair and just, also has a number of lacunas. According to Article 15 of the Act, minorities have the right to legal representation, yet this right is often trampled upon. Many people do not have access to lawyers, particularly those who are poor, illiterate, and live in rural areas. This means that minorities who cannot afford to pay for legal representation are often left without a fair hearing, and may end up in jail without a proper trial.

Another issue of concern is the use of state security agents to arrest, torture and intimidate minority groups such as opposition members, journalists, and human rights activists. This violates both the Zimbabwean constitution and international human rights treaties which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

The Zimbabwean justice system is known for its slow pace, bureaucratic procedures, and corruption. These factors often work against minorities who are seeking justice or are charged with criminal offenses. For example, minorities may be detained for long periods without trial, denied bail, overcharged, and subjected to pre-trial detention. Cases dragged for an inordinately long time with no justice delivered.

Furthermore, the courts are often understaffed, underfunded, and lack the necessary technology and resources to speed up cases. Many court officials are corrupt and may be influenced by bribes from powerful individuals or institutions.

The Zimbabwean justice system also lacks diversity, with few judges or magistrates being from minority communities. This lack of diversity undermines the impartiality of the courts and makes it difficult for minorities to trust that they will receive a fair hearing. There is also an absence of mechanisms to address issues of bias and prejudice in judicial practices.

To fully understand the failures of the justice system in Zimbabwe, it is essential to examine the lived experiences of minorities. There are numerous instances where minorities have been victims of injustice, discrimination, and abuse.

For instance, in the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, members of the Matabeleland region, who predominantly support the opposition party, were killed, raped, and tortured by state security agents. There has been arguably no transparent accountability for these crimes and no clear compensation for the victims.
The Zimbabwean justice system is meant to be a bulwark of fairness, impartiality, and justice for all.

Unfortunately, it has not lived up to the task, particularly when it comes to protecting the rights of minorities. The legal framework, policies, and institutional practices have all contributed to these failures.
To address these issues, there is a need for constitutional reforms that specifically protect the rights of minorities, as well as the introduction of measures to address bias and prejudice in judicial practices. The government also needs to invest more in the justice system, including providing funding and resources to courts, training staff and improving the overall efficiency of the sector.

Finally, there is a need to raise public awareness about the importance of upholding minority rights and to create more spaces for dialogue and engagement between minority groups, the justice system, and civil society. By working together, Zimbabwe can build a justice system that truly delivers justice for all.

Kumbirai Thierry Nhamo
Writer, Blogger, Poet and Researcher

Source - Kumbirai Thierry Nhamo
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