Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) will be moving to new premises at the end of January.
If you’ve driven down Second Street lately you must have noticed the brightly painted and very funky building, between Josiah Chinamano and Baines Avenues.
It was an old run down block of flats which has been renovated and repurposed by well-known Harare architect Bruce Rowlands with support from Danish aid organisation Danida. It’s now modern, clean and functional and will provide both offices and a training centre.
Speaking to Harare News, ZLHR Director, Rose Hanzi said that the new premises allowed ZLHR to cut its operating costs, ensuring its longevity as a stalwart in the fight for human rights.
“Our new offices are spacious, central and easily accessible to everyone. Hopefully the community members, and stakeholders will gain confidence due to the assurance that ZLHR is here for the long haul and not on a short term basis,” she said.
With Zimbabwe more and more in the international spotlight for gross human rights violations their work is becoming increasingly important in promoting democracy and freedom of expression, particularly in the run up to the 2018 elections when political violence is expected to rise dramatically.
ZLHR was founded about 20 years ago in 1996, by among others, Kevin Laue, Josphat Tshuma, Tendai Biti, Bryant Elliot, Sheila Magugu, and Janet Shava.
It was initially a loose group of lawyers, mostly affiliated with the Law Society of Zimbabwe, concerned with human rights issues.
It now consists of a secretariat of 14 dedicated lawyers and has a membership of about 160 volunteer member lawyers across the country.
Apart from the secretariat most of the lawyers are in private practice. Much of their work is pro bono, or for lawyers in private practice ZLHR will negotiate reduced fees and cover the costs in full if necessary. They are funded largely by well wishers and international organisations. Their head office is based in Harare with regional offices in Bulawayo and Mutare.
Their most high profile cases have been protecting Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) like Jestina Mukoko, Beatrice Mtetwa, as well as other lesser known community HRDs. But they also deal with many other less publicised issues like rights of sexual minorities, the rights of children, social and economic rights violations and constitutional issues, even down to individual cases where motorists have had their cars illegally impounded for failure or refusal to pay spot fines.
They also deal with civil cases like forced eviction and the non supply of basic services, like access to clean potable water.
In order to deal with the vast range of their practice they work closely with many other legal and social support organisations like Musasa Project (providing shelter, support and legal advice for victims of gender based violence), Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWALA) — particularly on family law issues like inheritance — Justice for Children Trust, Legal Resources Foundation, Transparency International, and the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association. Often they can refer people seeking assistance to the right organisation.
They also work with recently qualified lawyers and law students at universities providing training in Human Rights. In recent years, the lawyers have been guest lecturers at Midlands State University.
They have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Parliament of Zimbabwe, the Judicial Service Commission, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission so their influence is broad and weighty.
They also have mobile legal clinics aimed at improving access to justice for people in remote areas, and they continue to conduct educational programmes across the country informing people about their constitutional and basic human rights.
In 2007 ZLHR was awarded the first annual Freedom Defenders Award by Condoleezza Rice, then US Secretary of State, and in 2008 they won the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.