“I can arrest you” – the Zimbabwe Republic Police and your rights
July 15th, 2012
Bribery and corruption have become rampant. In a survey published by Transparency International in 2011, Zimbabwe ranked 154 out of 182 countries in terms of its level of corruption. The ZRP topped the list as the most corrupt institution and stood out as the biggest recipient of bribes among service providers.
The proliferation of roadblocks across Zimbabwe’s appallingly maintained road network has lead to growing frustration among road users due to the inevitable delays and the demands for bribes from increasingly brazen police officers. Although one of the most important roles of a roadblock should be to reduce the number of vehicle accidents, their contribution is seen as questionable – and rather as a money-making racket both for the police force per se and also for individual self-enrichment.
The controversy surrounding the roadblocks extends beyond bribery and corruption to their more sinister roles during elections: their use as a mechanism for blocking food aid to opposition strongholds, for stopping people injured in election violence from seeking medical help and to prevent opposition officials and activists from canvassing or holding rallies.
After explaining the legitimate roles of roadblocks, the report gives advice to citizens on their legal rights and provides recommendations on how to deal with police harassment and implicit or overt requests for bribes.
In a section describing corruption within the ZRP as “endemic”, the report provides examples in a range that includes plundering stolen properties, collusion with bag snatchers, extorting bribes from taxi drivers, demanding bribes at roadblocks, protection rackets, perverting the ends of justice, setting up diamond syndicates and murdering illegal or unlicenced miners for financial gain.
Judges have also criticised police investigations of cases where vital information given to the police by State witnesses has been omitted from formal witness statements produced in court in favour of the defence. Furthermore, ZANU-PF members who have murdered MDC supporters have been freed on bail and remain at liberty.
The evidence of good policing is the absence of crime. It must be subject to the Rule of Law, rather than the wishes of a powerful leader or party. It can intervene in the life of citizens only under limited and carefully controlled circumstances – and it is publicly accountable.
The report explains the differences between civil policing and political policing. It also defines secret policing, where an authoritarian regime uses the police as an agent of political oppression. Citizens within a police state experience restrictions on their mobility, and on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views – which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement.
The police force of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), was created by Chapter IX of the (Independence) Constitution of 1979, signed at the Lancaster House Conference. It is governed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe – which has been amended 19 times over the past 33 years – and by the Police Act. The current head of the ZRP, Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, has served as police head since 1993 and has had his contract renewed by President Mugabe 13 times since 1997.
The ZRP is bound by many international human rights standards. It is also a member of SARPCCO, a regional professional association which is committed to disseminating best practices and raising the standard of policing, including the respect for human rights.
Not only is the ZRP guilty of perpetrating gross human rights, with many of the victims being opposition activists and supporters, but it is also guilty of abusing its own members. Zimbabweans and the international community were shocked in June 2009 when a secretly filmed two-minute video on You-Tube showed ZRP recruits being beaten while undergoing ‘training’ in Harare. Each recruit was forced to lie down and was then beaten by ‘trainers’ with batons, some more viciously than others, a process reportedly referred to as ‘pay day’.
The conclusion warns the ZRP that it faces millions of US dollars worth of law suits from political activists and human rights defenders who are claiming compensation for torture, wrongful arrest or abduction. Furthermore, a South African High Court ruled on May 8, 2012 that the South African authorities must investigate Zimbabwean officials who are accused of involvement in torture and crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe.
Today in Zimbabwe, more than three years into the shaky and widely discredited power-sharing arrangement, arrests are escalating, corruption is rampant, human rights violations are rising once more and the Rule of Law has not been restored. All indicators are there to alert Zimbabweans, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international community that an increasingly desperate and unpopular ZANU-PF is gearing up for the next election.
The Legal Resource Foundation has produced a series of booklets and flyers on knowing your rights on arrest, detention and bail.