The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has described as “despicable” the conduct of some Zimbabwe Republic Police officers, who allegedly assaulted human rights lawyer Douglas Coltart a few days ago while discharging his professional duties.
In a statement, ZLHR claimed that Coltart, a member of ZLHR, was assaulted at Harare Central Police Station by some unidentified police officers after he had attended to offer emergency legal and other attendant support services to Obert Masaraure, the president of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), who was arrested on Saturday by the police and charged with disorderly conduct.
“The attack on Coltart is in itself alarming in that it comes three months after some ZRP officers assaulted the same human rights lawyer while executing his professional duties of representing some ARTUZ members, who had been arrested while intending to hand over a petition to Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube’s Office in Harare demanding improved remuneration and favourable working conditions for teachers.
“ZLHR strongly condemns the brutal actions of the police. Such conduct puts the integrity and independence of the legal profession at critical risk. The physical assault of a lawyer while carrying out his professional duties is a clear sign of the police’s outright disregard for constitutional protections and regional and international human rights standards which oblige all state actors to ensure that lawyers are able to carry out their duties without fear or favour and enjoy the same fundamental rights and freedoms as other people of Zimbabwe.”
The ZLHR said the assault on Coltart is in violation of Section 219 of the Constitution which mandates the police service to protect and secure the lives of people and also violates Section 208 of the Constitution that prohibits police from violating the fundamental rights or freedoms of people.
“The ZRP officers’ callous actions also contravenes Zimbabwe’s obligations under regional and international law. The United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, provide that lawyers and human rights defenders must be able to carry out their professional functions and work without hindrance, harassment, intimidation or improper interference.”
The ZLHR said the UN Basic Principles on the role of lawyers require adequate protection of lawyers if their security is threatened when carrying out their legitimate professional duties and not to be identified with their clients or their clients’ cause.
It called upon the government to gurantee Coltart’s safety and physical integrity and to ensure that legal practitioners are able to carry out their work free of fear, harassment or intimidation and to adequately protect the safety and independence of all lawyers and end the culture of impunity.
It also urged the police to “promptly and thoroughly investigate the assault of Coltart with the aim of identifying those responsible and holding perpetrators accountable in order to serve justice and to prevent re-occurrence of violations; fully comply with and create awareness about the core values underlying the legal profession, amongst others by bringing the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers to the attention of ZRP and other relevant stakeholders and Expedite the establishment of Independent Complaints Mechanism as provided in section 210 of the Constitution which will be mandated with receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services who include the Police Service and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct.”
Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi was unavailable for comment as he was said to be attending a meeting in Harare.