'The Case to Fund and Protect Grassroots Justice Defenders' - A View From Zimbabwe


(Paul Sixpence) #1

During the course of this week Namati under the ‘Justice For All initiative’ produced a ‘policy brief [that] offers recommendations for policymakers, donors, and multilateral institutions on how to finance and protect … grassroots justice defenders who provide essential legal support to communities.’ (find it here). For Zimbabwe, this could not have come at a better time. Zimbabwe is currently at crossroads.

As you may already be aware, over the last 2 weeks Zimbabwean citizens have taken to the streets to protest against high fuel (gasoline) prices, skyrocketing inflation and general economic decay. The government responded through the use of disproportionate force by the army and police. The current political and security situation in Zimbabwe makes it difficult for grassroots justice defenders to carry-out their work. Moreover, grassroots justice defenders are the first and easy targets for arrest, torture and harassment by State Security Agents because they are at the frontline of witnessing human rights violations by the State and also documenting human rights violations.

For my organisation, Centre Stage Media Arts Foundation (CSMA), the current situation has negatively affected our work. The school calendar for the new year started on the 8th of January 2019. As we were preparing to go into schools to help children without national identity documents access them, the protests started and the heavy handed response of the State also followed. The prevailing political and security situation makes it difficult for para-legals and other community human rights activists that we work with to access schools, school children, parents, guardians and care-givers of children because their presence on the ground is mistaken by the State to mean that they are inciting members of the public to engage in protests.

In a bid to halt the protests the government also affected an illegal blanket internet shutdown. The internet shutdown has been ruled to be illegal through a provisional High Court order. Without the internet, grassroots human rights defenders could not communicate with citizens in distress and those who needed legal support and assistance during the course of the protests. Beyond violating the rights to access information and freedom of expression, the internet shutdown violated the socio-economic rights of citizens. Due to currency shortages in Zimbabweans, citizens use internet and mobile based platforms to buy basic groceries from shops.

Further, our para-legals have been denied the opportunity to access protesters who have been arrested and are in pre-trial detention at police stations to offer them legal support and also link them to human rights organisations and lawyers offering pro-bono legal services. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), a statutory mandated body with the mandate of offering human rights protection to citizens has also been prevented from accessing suspects of public violence at police stations.

The ZHRC, as of today (22 January 2018) reports that 8 civilians have died through gun shot wounds. However, other human rights groups are reporting that the number could be as high as 12. Further to this, hundreds of people have been injured and some are afraid to seek medical attention at public hospitals for fear of arrest and detention.

In conclusion, the protection from violence, torture, detention and arrest of grassroots human rights defenders by the State has never been paramount in Zimbabwe as is the situation at the moment. On behalf of CSMA and other grassroot legal empowerment organisations and advocates, I implore this community to amplify our voices and calls for protection of citizens and justice defenders by the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) through whatever means that you have at your disposal.


Vraiment une affaire à suivre !

(Ali Hassan) #3

I am impressed with your analysis for case study of Zimbabwe. You need to continue with your effort for the benefits of the society.

(McKinley Charles) #4

@paulsixpence – This is a wonderful post about a terrible situation. Your additional details on the situation and its effects on grassroots justice defenders and those they serve are very helpful in understanding the issues at hand. And, as you well know, it clearly links to the #advocacy:justiceforall campaign which calls for the protection and funding of grassroots justice defenders.

I realize you have said that you “implore this community to amplify our voices and calls for protection of citizens and justice defenders by the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) through whatever means that you have at your disposal” but I wanted to double check that it is okay that we publicly promote this post on social media and associate your name to it. Might we also be able to post it to the Justice For All website? Given the current situation in Zimbabwe, we would not want to put you in harm’s way.

CC: @vivektrivedi @cocolammers @staceycram

(Alexandar Pavlov) #5

I am impressed what has been done and with your courage. I visited Zimbabwe in 1986, beautiful country. Here, in Canada I know a lawyer, originally from Zimbabwe. I hope the country will recover again.

Truly yours, Alexandar

(Paul Sixpence) #6

Dear McKinley,

It would certainly help a lot of grassroot justice defenders if you share the post on your social media sites. Please go ahead and share the post.


(Paul Sixpence) #7

Many thanks Alexandar, many thanks for your solidarity and kind words. We are forever hopeful that things will improve in Zimbabwe

(Alexandar Pavlov) #8

I will be happy to talk to you by Skype. Maybe we can think about some legal project. Greetings from snowy Canada.


(Cadafi Inrule) #9

Realmente esta é uma situação desoladora… Temos acompanhado pelos diversos canais de comunicação social a situação dos protestos e detenções no Zimbabwe e aproveito o momento para deixar ficar a minha solidariedade como cidadão de um país vizinho #Mozambique e em nome da minha organização O CENTRO DE CAPACITAÇÃO COMUNITÁRIA (CECAC).

(McKinley Charles) #11

Thank you for your confirmation, Paul. We will certainly share this post and information.

So you are aware, I took the liberty of adding links to CSMA’s member profile and to the brief you mentioned.

Hope the situation improves soon – and dramatically.

(Paul Sixpence) #12

Many thanks McKinley. We are hopeful that the situation will change for the better soon

(Coco Lammers) #13

Thank you for sharing your experiences @paulsixpence. Your story has been added to the Justice For All website here.

(Ali Hassan) #14

I am very impressed with the story and the way you have taken into consideration

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