During the second week of October 2014, the BHRC turned its attention to Zimbabwe by holding two inspiring events featuring renowned Zimbabwean human rights lawyers.
The first event was a visit from David Coltart, a human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe who has represented many people facing politically motivated prosecutions throughout the years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. In the 1990s he initiated and assisted in the research and writing of the “Breaking the Silence” report, published in 1997, about the massacre of Ndebele people by Mugabe’s troops in the 1980s – which, until then, had gone almost unreported. Mr Coltart was one of the founding members of the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. In the power sharing government of 2009, which followed Zanu PF’s violence during the elections in 2008, he became MDC Minister for Education and, in collaboration with UNICEF, rolled out millions of new textbooks to schools across the country. He is credited with stabilising the education sector which was facing total collapse.
BHRC members and friends attended a talk by David Coltart on 7th October at Garden Court Chambers where he spoke on the topic of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, or rather the lack of it. He described a number of improvements proffered by the new constitution in Zimbabwe such as provisions for the protection of human rights, including restrictions on the imposition of the death penalty. However, there are still many problems with implementation and draconian legislation continues to be applied in violation of the constitution.
The second event was a visit from Beatrice Mtetwa, internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean human rights lawyer. Her first job was prosecuting cases for the new government of Robert Mugabe. Within a matter of years, however, she left her job disillusioned with the “selective justice” involving many of the cases. Ms Mtetwa opened her own law firm representing defendants victimised by the repressive government. Her courageous work defending individual journalists and press freedom has attracted global respect and was recently recognised by Michelle Obama at a US Department of State ceremony.
On this occasion Beatrice Mtetwa was in London to receive the 2014 Women of the Year Human Rights Award, which she won in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to the defence of journalists and freedom of the press. On 10th October BHRC hosted a round table event at which Beatrice spoke about the challenges facing the rule of law in Zimbabwe. She also shared her personal experiences of being imprisoned last year, and of how the experience has prompted her to shine a spotlight on women in detention in Zimbabwe.