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Have the Police become a law unto themselves?

Sir Robert Peel once said, “the police are the public and the public are the police”. This statement reflects the dual role the members of the public police hold in our communities. The Zimbabwe Republic Police are faced with tough moral decisions on a day-to-day basis to respect the rights of citizens or of the ruling elite. This reminds me of a report by Human Rights NGO Forum titled ,"Who guards the guards? Violations by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, 2000 to 2006", which highlighted the law enforcement agents as the main perpetrators of human rights violations.

The history of police brutality is not even recent. The changing of the 2013 Constitution from the Zimbabwe Republic Police force into service was meant to ensure that the police protects and secure the lives of Zimbabweans.

The police brutality I witnessed against MDC-A supporters on 24 August at the Harare Magistrate Court made me to question whether the constitution had indeed given them a new mandate of being a service not a force. For those that are not too familiar with the supreme law, Section 219 provides for the police service. 219(1)(e)states that the responsibility of the police service uphold the constitution and enforcing the law without fear or favor.

Terrence Manjengwa was among those that participated in a flash demo demanding the release of Zengeza West Job Sikhala on the 24th August 2020 at the Harare Magistrate Court. The beating he was subjected to infringes Section 53 of the Constitution which provides for the right of freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Manjengwa in just but one of the many Zimbabweans that have been tortured by the police.

Section 219 of the Constitution provides that the Zimbabwe Republic Police be established for the purpose of preserving internal security and maintaining law and order, and that in the performance of their duties, police officials are meant to respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all people. However, the right to life enshrined in the same Constitution (Section 48) is under threat, maybe because of the crime committed by the victims but still isn’t the police just supposed to arrest instead of punishing first and then arresting. From the period of March 2020, some of the victims of brutality have lost their lives and some are still struggling to survive due to the physical injuries and trauma. We hence continue to remember Levison Ncube, Milton Makopa, Bekhani Moyo and many others who lost their lives in the hands of the police who are meant to protect the public. Now we have Tawanda Muchehiwa , Edmond Zeyazeya, January Chrispen,Samson Zharare, Zulani Mudenda , Twabona Nyoni and many other invisible victims who are struggling for their lives, living with wounds which will scar their bodies and memories forever. Victims of police brutality are usually labeled criminals and thereby automatically become ineligible for state-funded assistance.

It is a fact that the police in Zimbabwe play vital role in the society that of maintaining order. However should killing and torture be used? The constitution says no one should be tortured or exposed to inhumane and degrading treatment. If a crime has been committed then there should be an arrest and the arrested have their day in court.

The state has a legal duty to ensure the effective protection of human rights, through prevention of human rights violations, provision of domestic remedies, investigation of alleged human rights violations, prosecution of suspects; punishment of those found guilty, provision of restitution or compensation to victims of human rights violations, and addressing the problem of impunity for human rights violations. We are its citizens, the police is our police not our enemies!

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Onward Ushe Matizha is a Human Rights Monitoring Officer. Comments on this article can be sent to onward@zimrights.org.zw


Onward Ushe Matizha