The failure by the Justice and Legal Affairs Ministry to deal with citizens’ lawsuits against the police continues to erode public confidence in the justice delivery system, human rights lawyers have warned.
Dozens of human rights defenders and activists have been arrested, abducted and tortured over the past decade in what is seen as attempts by Zanu (PF) to stay in power.
Some of them have sued the police and other government officials. But most of these lawsuits, some of them three years old, are yet to be finalised.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights estimates that a lawsuit can be filed and finalized in about two months. Last year, the High Court revealed it was facing a pile of up to 26 lawsuits by citizens.
“The delays mean justice is denied and the perpetrators get away with it. But if the cases are finalised early enough, the message will go out to the police clearly that they must not abuse their authority,” said lawyer Alec Muchadehama.
A 2009 lawsuit filed by Zimbabwe Peace Project Director, Jestina Mukoko, who is suing several government ministers for $200 000 in damages suffered during her abduction, wrongful arrest and torture, is still outstanding.
She was abducted from her Norton home by suspected State Security agents in December 2008 and spent months in jail during which she was tortured and denied medical attention.
Other prominent cases include that of Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jameson Timba, who in August last year filed a $250 000 lawsuit against Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri, for unlawful arrest and inhuman treatment.
Timba was arrested for allegedly undermining the authority of the president after telling the South African Sunday Times newspaper that President Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) ministers were liars.
A high level source at the ministry of justice confirmed the delays. “There is the issue of staffing shortages, but also a deliberate attempt to frustrate efforts of the lawyers pursuing these cases,” he said.
The State Liabilities Act prescribes that government should compensate those who win cases against it, but absolves officials sued while carrying out their duties.