Zimbabwe: UN rights expert concerned over Mugabe's action against courts

Zimbabwe: UN rights expert concerned over Mugabe's action against courts

A United Nations human rights expert today voiced "grave concern" over actions taken by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe against the country's courts, saying they amounted to "defiance of the rule of law."

Reacting to President Mugabe's reported decision to defy a Supreme Court order, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, called the action a "blatant violation of the UN Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, which expressly provide that States should guarantee the independence of the judiciary and that decisions of the courts should not be subject to revision save by lawfully constituted appellate courts."

The incident stemmed from a Supreme Court order delivered on 27 February striking down electoral legislation on grounds that it was improperly enacted by Parliament. On 5 March, President Mugabe reinstated the same legislation, asserting that it had been validly enacted and "shall be deemed to have been lawfully" adopted.

According to Mr. Cumaraswamy, the Judge who had presided over the Court's judgment in late February has since resigned, becoming "the last of seven Supreme Court judges to step down since the early retirement, under pressure, of Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay in March 2001."

"These latest developments, seen in the light of previous attacks, harassment and intimidation of the judiciary by the executive and others, as well as defiance of court orders by the Government, are indicative that Zimbabwe is no longer a government of laws but of men who have no regard whatsoever for the independence of the judiciary," said the Special Rapporteur. "When it is the Government and its agents who defy [the law] then governmental lawlessness becomes the order of the day."

Mr. Cumaraswamy pledged to raise his concerns during the upcoming session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, set to open in Geneva on 4 April.