Harare,– President Robert Mugabe’s recent ill-informed statements in which he threatened judges against handling a court challenge filed by his erstwhile lieutenant have drawn the ire of the International Bar Association (IBA) which described his actions undermining the independence of the judiciary.

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Mugabe recently challenged the legal right of any judge to intervene in what he classified as internal Zanu(PF) party matters and questioned the educational qualifications of any judicial officer willing to hear a legal challenge recently brought by Didymus Mutasa, his Zanu(PF) party’s former secretary for Administration and Rugare Gumbo, the party’s former spokesperson in the High Court.

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Mutasa and Gumbo recently filed an application in the High Court and cited Mugabe and his Zanu(PF) party as respondents on the grounds of ‘un-procedural’ expulsion from the ruling party.

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But the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute on Monday issued a statement criticising Mugabe for seeking to intimidate judges.

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“The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute would like to remind President Mugabe that the Zimbabwe Constitution gives the courts unqualified jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters throughout Zimbabwe, including those relating to ZANU-PF. Further, we emphasise his domestic obligation to “assist and protect the courts to ensure their independence, impartiality, dignity, accessibility and effectiveness”as contained in the Zimbabwe Constitution and also to adhere to regional and international standards of an independent judiciary,” said Baroness Helena Kennedy, IBAHRI’s Co-Chair.

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IBAHRI warned that Mugabe had for a long period undermined the judiciary.

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“It is extremely concerning that Mr Mugabe, who holds the position of Chair of the African Union, would seek to prejudice judicial matters in Zimbabwe and create an environment where judges there operate in a state of intimidation. Mr Mugabe should understand that no matter falls outside the ambit of the judiciary, and that the continued undermining of the independence of the judiciary is unacceptable, particularly when his chairmanship includes the obligation of upholding The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and he should be guaranteeing the independence of the courts,” said IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis.

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IBAHRI has remained one of the few international organisations to keep focus on Zimbabwe as in 2011 it censured Mugabe’s administration after It found the rule of law to be under threat in many areas in Zimbabwe and deemed the independence of the Attorney-General and the judiciary to still be issues that need addressing.

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Established in 1947, IBA is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.