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Castor Panfilov
Castor Panfilov

Human Rights Disaster In Zimbabwe Prisons

Findings: The Malawi prison system was relatively successful in preventing serious COVID-19 outbreaks in its prisons, despite the lack of resources and the ad hoc reactive approach adopted. Whilst the Malawi national COVID plan was aligned to international and regional protocols, the combination of infrastructural deficits (clinical staff and medical provisions) and poor conditions of detention (congestion, lack of ventilation, hygiene and sanitation) were conducive to poor health and the spread of communicable disease. The state of disaster declared by the Malawi Government and visitation restrictions at prisons worsened prison conditions for those working and living there.

Human rights disaster in Zimbabwe prisons

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Originality/value: In sub-Saharan Africa, there is limited capacity of prisons to adequately respond to COVID-19. This is the first legal-realist assessment of the Malawian prison system approach to tackling COVID-19, and it contributes to a growing evidence of human rights-based investigations into COVID-19 responses in African prisons (Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

The enactment of the Public Health Act in 2018 provided an opportunity for the government to align the law with the 2013 Constitution, which enshrines a right to health. The act gives effect to the Constitution to protect, improve, and maintain the health of the population, including by preventing the spread of infectious diseases.98 However, the act fails to provide stronger rights-based language related to health rights, particularly clauses relating to the prevention and containment of HIV among women in prisons. Given the obvious and unique challenge of high numbers of people living with HIV in the country, it would have been desirable to have specific and robust provisions to address this pandemic. In addition, it is difficult for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to give effect to disease prevention provisions of the act at the administrative and operational level given the thin budget allocations in this regard.

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20. In the training of law enforcement officials, Governments and law enforcement agencies shall give special attention to issues of police ethics and human rights, especially in the investigative process, to alternatives to the use of force and firearms, including the peaceful settlement of conflicts, the understanding of crowd behaviour, and the methods of persuasion, negotiation and mediation, as well as to technical means, with a view to limiting the use of force and firearms. Law enforcement agencies should review their training programmes and operational procedures in the light of particular incidents.

The first prison system case in Zimbabwe was notified in July 2020 shortly after State declaration of disaster. A legal-realist assessment was conducted of the Zimbabwean correctional system response to COVID-19 during state disaster measures, with a focus on assessing right to health, infectious disease mitigation and the extent to which minimum state obligations complied with human and health rights standards.

The Zimbabwean correctional system operations during COVID-19 disaster measures are scrutinized using a range of international, African and domestic human rights instruments in relation to the right to health of prisoners. This study focused particularly on standards of care, environmental conditions of detention and right of access to health care.

Prison conditions in Zimbabwe are conducive to chronic ill health and the spread of many transmissible diseases, not limited to COVID-19. The developed legal-realist account considers whether Zimbabwe had a culture of respect for the rule of law pertinent to human and health rights of those detained during COVID-19 disaster measures, and whether minimum standards of care were upheld.

The government continued to engage in the pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights, which increased during the year. The ruling party's dominant control and manipulation of the political process through violence, intimidation, and corruption effectively negated the right of citizens to change their government. Unlawful killings and politically motivated abductions increased. State-sanctioned use of excessive force increased, and security forces tortured members of the opposition, student leaders, and civil society activists with impunity. Security forces refused to document cases of political violence committed by ruling party loyalists against members of the opposition. Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Security forces, who regularly acted with impunity, arbitrarily arrested and detained the opposition, members of civil society, labor leaders, journalists, demonstrators, and religious leaders; lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Executive influence and interference in the judiciary continued. The government continued to evict citizens and to demolish homes and informal marketplaces. The government continued to use repressive laws to suppress freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, academic freedom, and movement. Government corruption remained widespread. High-ranking government officials made numerous public threats of violence against demonstrators and members of the opposition. A nearly three-month ban on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) exacerbated food insecurity and poverty. After the ban was lifted, security forces, war veteran groups, and provincial governors continued to interfere with NGO operations, hampering food distributions. Tens of thousands of citizens were displaced in the wake of election-related violence and instability, and the government impeded NGOs' efforts to assist them and other vulnerable populations. The following human rights violations also continued: violence and discrimination against women; trafficking of women and children; discrimination against persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and persons living with HIV/AIDS; harassment and interference with labor organizations critical of government policies; child labor; and forced labor, including of children.

Security forces engaged in extralegal killings in connection with illegal diamond mining. According to the press and NGO reports, security forces undertook a major operation to kill illegal diamond miners in the Marange/Chiadzwa area of Manicaland during the year, in order to ensure the diamond sales benefited the Mugabe regime. On December 12, the NGOs Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada claimed "police reportedly shot and killed as many as 50 informal diamond diggers in November's raid, allegedly termed Operation No Return." According to numerous reports, military forces used a ground attack with dogs and guns as well as an aerial assault to kill indiscriminately persons digging for diamonds. The military allegedly intervened after learning that police in the area were benefiting from illegal diamond mining. Press reports from nearby Mutare, where many of the bodies were taken, indicated dozens of men, women, and children died from gunshot wounds, dog bite wounds, and torture inflicted by soldiers. On December 12, the NGOs called for signatories to the Kimberley Process to prevent Zimbabwean diamonds from entering the global market, noting, "the perpetuation of human rights abuses and indiscriminate extrajudicial killing by governments in pursuit of Kimberley Process objectives is little better than the problem the scheme seeks to end. The Kimberley Process should act to condemn and prevent such violence."

Prison conditions remained harsh and life-threatening. The government's 42 prisons were designed for a maximum of 17,000 prisoners. In May the Ministry of Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs reported that the country's prisons held between 22,000-24,000 prisoners; however, a local NGO reported that they actually held approximately 35,000 inmates. Prison guards beat and abused prisoners. Poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding persisted, which aggravated outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. Human rights activists familiar with prison conditions reported constant shortages of food, water, electricity, clothing, and soap. According to the 2006 Solidarity Peace Trust and Institute for Justice and Reconciliation report Policing the State, "political arrestees are routinely and deliberately overcrowded, with 30 or more people being kept at times in cells intended for six," and those "who have been severely beaten by the police and have fractures and other injuries, are routinely denied any access to health care or medication for varying periods of time." In June then-Deputy Attorney General Johannes Tomana acknowledged overcrowding and stated, "jail is not nice. It is not meant to be nice." Tomana was appointed Attorney General in December.

The law provides that international human rights monitors have the right to visit prisons, but government procedures and requirements made it very difficult to do so. The government granted local NGOs access on a number of occasions during the year.

On October 16, WOZA led a protest march of approximately 200 persons in Bulawayo to call on the government to declare a state of emergency and allow emergency food aid. As the protesters sat outside the government office and waited for a group of elderly women to deliver a petition, riot police dispersed the protestors and broke one woman's finger. Williams and Mahlangu were arrested. On October 17, they were charged with disturbing the peace. Before a court hearing that day, the government prosecutor told the defense lawyer that they would not oppose bail and agreed to the amount and conditions. On entering the court room, a new prosecutor appeared and argued, referring to the May 28 arrest, that the two should be denied bail because there was still an outstanding case pending. However, the defense argued that since the group's case had been removed from remand in the Magistrate's Court on October 15, the matter was no longer pending. The magistrate allowed the government time to verify this and ordered Williams and Mahlangu to remain in custody until October 21. On October 22, AI described the women as "prisoners of conscience" and condemned their arrest as part of a government clampdown on human rights defenders. On October 27, after additional delays by the court, the magistrate denied the two women bail. On November 5, a High Court judge granted the women bail, stating that the magistrate did not have sufficient reason to deny them bail. On November 6, Williams and Mahlangu were released and reported experiencing harrowing conditions in prison, including food shortages. On December 2, the two were due to face trial for charges of disturbing the peace and separate charges of disturbing the peace in connection with 2004 arrests that were never brought to trial. However, none of the state witnesses for the 2008 case and only one state witness for the 2004 case appeared in court. The magistrate postponed the trial and the case was pending at year's end. 041b061a72




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