Author: Cristiano d’Orsi
Research Fellow and Lecturer at the South African Research Chair in International Law (SARCIL), University of Johannesburg
Zimbabwean opposition figure Tendai Biti was on Thursday August 9 2018 charged with inciting public violence and declaring unofficial election results as fears grew about a government crackdown following the disputed July 30 election. The court appearance followed dramatic events in which Biti fled to Zambia, was denied asylum and was handed over to Zimbabwean security forces in defiance of a Zambian court order. UNHCR quickly expressed concern. A joint statement by the heads of missions in Zimbabwe of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia urgently called on Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee Biti’s safety and respect his rights.
On July 13, 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe (ConCourt) found that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional as it violated the rights to equal protection and human dignity and the prohibition on cruel and degrading punishment. The decision, Makoni v. Commissioner of Prisons, is undoubtedly a victory for human rights, due to the dismal state of prison conditions in Zimbabwe and the emotional and psychological harm caused by indeterminate sentences. In its decision, the ConCourt cited a wide range of jurisprudence from foreign and international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, South African Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Namibia, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London to discern a global trend toward rehabilitative criminal sentences. Many of these foreign and international legal sources were brought to the ConCourt’s attention by transnational human rights lawyers themselves in their Heads of Argument, underscoring the important role that advocates play in the diffusion of international human rights norms.