This unit is responsible for the Access to Justice priority area of the Strategic Plan
Bellinda Chinowawa: Manager
The oldest and most established of ZLHR’s units, this unit carries out various types of litigation in order to contribute to civil, political, economic and social justice and democratic reform in Zimbabwe. Project lawyers work on constitutional litigation (challenging the constitutionality of various laws and state policies and practices and seeking to expand the Bill of Rights of the current Constitution); anti-impunity litigation (bringing civil claims for damages against named perpetrators in their official and personal capacities to reduce impunity and increase accountability of state and non-state actors for human rights violations against HRDs; Public interest (strategic/impact) litigation (to expose potential perpetrators, or prevent or expose intended unlawful conduct by state and non-state actors); and socio-economic rights litigation (to promote social and economic justice and further development efforts in Zimbabwe).
Goal: To enhance access to Civil, Social and Economic Justice through litigation, human rights awareness and education
ZLHR litigates based on the Constitution of Zimbabwe, as the supreme law of the land to assert rights and liberties guaranteed in the declaration of rights. The Constitution protects various civil and political rights and socio-economic rights. Notwithstanding such constitutional protections, Zimbabweans and in particular those falling within the class of human rights defenders continue to be persecuted through various subsidiary legislation, policies and administrative practices. ZLHR litigates before the Constitutional Court to assert enshrined rights and challenges conduct, practices, customs and laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution. ZLHR also relies on the new provisions entrenching economic, social and cultural rights to protect citizens’ rights to these development-oriented rights.
Public Interest (Strategic Impact) litigation
ZLHR takes up cases that are meant to benefit public good and advance the protection and enjoyment of human rights at a broader level. The unit engages in strategic human rights litigation that has an impact on the larger community and benefits more people beyond the primary litigant in a specific case. Some of the key issues targeted by the unit include reform of bad and repressive laws, influencing government economic and social policy, promoting social equality, fostering public accountability, promoting access to justice and generally promoting and protecting the rule of law and the enjoyment of human rights by all citizens.
Over the years of litigating on behalf of human rights defenders, ZLHR has realised that a number of state and non-state actors often violate human rights of others under the guise of acting within the realm of the law or purportedly under some state authority. Cases of police brutality, heavy-handedness by security agents and other quasi-state actors continue to be recorded. To deter and discourage such violations, ZLHR adopts, as one of its strategies, a policy of bringing anti-impunity civil proceedings against perpetrators wherever possible. Claims for damages are usually filed against the defendants to deter acts of human rights violations.
Regional and International Litigation
There are instances in which local (domestic) remedies fail to provide redress to victims/survivors of human rights violations, or where they are simply unavailable. In this case, where local remedies have been exhausted or do not exist, ZLHR files complaints with regional and international tribunals and other human rights bodies seeking further relief for violations by the state of its regional and international obligations. ZLHR has led the way in filing successful communications with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Mobile Legal Clinics
The lack of an accessible and efficient justice system makes it difficult for the people especially in the rural areas of Zimbabwe to access justice on time and in the prolonged process makes it very expensive also. As part of ZLHR’s deliberate strategy to ensure access to justice for all, ZLHR conducts mobile legal clinics in low-income communities in peri-urban and rural areas. The aim of mobile legal clinics is to avail justice right at the door-step of those who need it most but do not ordinarily have access to it. Mobile legal clinics are structured in such a way that they provide human rights literacy, free legal aid and legal counselling for the poor and the most marginalised populations and where appropriate, ZLHR takes up cases for litigation requiring human rights litigation.
- Constitutional Litigation to enforce civil and political rights and economic and social rights
- Anti-impunity litigation
- Public Interest Litigation
- Regional and International Litigation
- Two-way pathway referral mechanisms with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
- Mobile Legal Clinics
Women, men, youth and marginalised individuals and groups who are HRDs; trade unionists; constitutional rights activists; socio-economic justice activists; communities and individuals subject to forced evictions, internal displacement, other emergencies; media practitioners; environmental rights activists; artists, bloggers, actors; innocent bystanders who are caught up with HRDs; Local policy-makers; other community and civic leaders; regional and continental bodies – SADC, African Union; international rights bodies and the United Nations.