With the Zimbabwe government perpetrating violence against its people, a group of lawyers works amidst destruction to protect victims.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights executive director Irene Petras and member Andrew Makoni were at the Glenbow museum Nov. 27 to speak about the human rights violations and hardships that Zimbabweans endure every day.
ZLHR is an organization that promotes and protects human rights in Zimbabwe and ensures that the government adheres to international standards for human rights.
The speakers covered problems such as the judicial, medical and education systems and organized violence against those who did not support the government.
"Zimbabwe, as many of you know, is a very complex situation," said Petras. "We have been in a crisis which has remained unresolved for a period of 10 years. There is a culture of impunity and it is very rife in the country."
The two Zimbabweans are in Canada to accept the John Humphrey Freedom award for their commitment to seeking justice for human rights victims. The award is given every year to individuals and organizations that embody the values of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights through their work. Petras and Makoni are giving speeches in five Canadian cities and will accept the award in Ottawa on Dec. 10.
Before the speeches, the audience was shown a 15-minute video that detailed the extent of the violence committed and shared personal stories of Zimbabweans.
Many of the problems facing Zimbabwe have stemmed from the leadership of the ruling Zanu-PF political party led by Robert Mugabe. His regime has been charged with committing violent crimes aimed at supporters of his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.
"In the March 2008 elections, the MDC won a majority of the popular vote and what followed was the worst and most political retribution we have witnessed in the country since the 1980s," said Petras. "All the time that the political crisis deepens, the humanitarian catastrophe also deepens."
Ordinary people affected by the violence cannot access the judicial system because they are too poor to afford legal aid.
"There is a lack of access to justice for the ordinary Zimbabwean because we have hyperinflation," said Petras. "The rate is 231,000,000 per cent and the unofficial rate is in the quadrillions. It is impossible for a Zimbabwean to pay for law services to protect and realize their rights in the courts."
Zimbabweans are also unable to afford basic necessities such as food or bus fare to work due to the money shortage in the country. They are only allowed to take out a certain amount of money each day.
"We cannot access enough cash from the banks," said Makoni. "We can only access 500,000 [Zimbabwean dollars] a day and that amount is not enough for a single bus trip to town and back. People would have to be in the queue for several days to get bus fare. Instead of being at work, people are queuing for food or money."
With people unable to work, feed their families or gather enough money for simple things like bus fare, other institutions are collapsing around the country. Makoni spoke of the collapse of the medical and educational facilities which have been shut down for much of this year.
"We are facing a very serious crisis in the educational sector," said Makoni. "My son was supposed to be in grade seven this year. For the better part of the year, schools were not running because no teachers were coming to schools because they can't afford bus fare. And yet at the end of September they were expected to write exams."
Makoni also commented on the closure of the University of Zimbabwe. Students registered, but were told there were not enough resources to support them.
Doctors and nurses have been on strike for much of the year, leaving the provision of health care to medical students, Makoni said. This is especially deadly with the recent cholera outburst that has killed over 400 people since August 2008.
They ended the speech answering questions and explaining that they have hope for their country despite the turmoil it is caught up in at the moment.
"We are a country of hope and a peace loving nation," said Makoni. "We are hopeful that this page will be closed one day. Our hope is to see the future."