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In the new millenium, sadly, Zimbabwe is a global pariah because our government is alleged to have trashed the rule of law and the Constitution on which is based its authority to govern. Government has repeatedly referred to the rule of law as ‘extraneous’ and ‘peripheral’. As a result, the government has lost its former legitimacy, both at home and internationally. The text of the Abuja Agreement made this very clear.
But what, exactly, is ‘the rule of law’? Law includes both the unwritten ‘common law’ of past custom and tradition, and ‘statutes’ or ‘acts’ passed by Parliament. However, as a collective mind-set and expectation of behaviour, ‘the rule of law’ goes beyond specific laws. ‘The rule of law’ stands in contrast to ‘the law of the jungle’ operated by the strong and powerful where the weak and powerless lose out.
Laws are made by people, in and through their political institutions, to govern their behaviour as members of a common society. The laws made in Parliaments are enforced by different institutions – police forces and Interpol, courts and judges, prisons and corrective institutions. So the rule of law is complicated by the fact it involves all three ‘pillars of state’ in the exercise of different but balanced powers by the legislature, judiciary and executive.
For the rule of law to apply, then, Parliaments must make laws and define the punishments for breaking them. Police forces must investigate and, where the required evidence exists, prosecute all alleged offences, no matter who commits them. Magistrates and judges, courts and tribunals must try people fairly and impartially according to the laws made by their country’s Parliament. Police and prison services must do what the courts order regarding the release or punishment of people tried.
The legal goalposts should remain stable, even when particular laws are amended or repealed to suit a changing society. The law must not be changed to suit particular individuals, especially not after they have committed offences. The legal process must not be corrupted by bribery, political interference or violence.
In this report, we examine in some detail the evidence of breaches of the rule of law by the three pillars of the Zimbabwean State.
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The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) is a coalition of twenty-two human rights NGOs in Zimbabwe. The Forum’s activities include transitional justice work, research and documentation, and public interest litigation. Learn more about us.

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