By A Correspondent| Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is greatly concerned by the government’s decision to release some inmates, who include convicted sexual offenders, from the country’s prisons under a presidential amnesty declared recently by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
On 12 May 2023, President Mnangagwa gazetted Clemency Order No. 1 of 2023, where he exercised his prerogative of mercy to release some offenders from some jails located across the country in a move hailed by Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services as aimed at reducing the prison population.
The Clemency Order gave amnesty to different categories of prisoners throughout Zimbabwe.
Section 12(d) of the Clemency Order provides that some prisoners were to be excluded from the proposed general amnesty, including any inmate convicted of committing any specified offence.
Section 13(c) of the Clemency Order provides that for the purpose of the amnesty: “specified offence” includes rape or any sexual offence.
However, in some sections of the same ‘Clemency Order’ President Mnangagwa’s Clemency Order provided exceptions, where inmates convicted of crimes that include rape and sexual offences would be granted amnesty.
Such exceptions included inmates aged 60 years old and above who would have effectively served one-tenth of their sentence to be released on amnesty.
ZLHR is shocked and disheartened that the release of sexual offenders significantly lowered the seriousness of sexual offences, considering that some of the sexual offenders were released having just served a tenth of their sentences.
Some of the sexual offenders being released after only serving prison terms of less than one year were quoted telling journalists during interviews that they had raped children as young as nine years old.
It is abhorrent that most of these inmates were released into the same communities, where they committed the crimes and where their victims still reside. These offenders have a high propensity to re-offend, and the consequences will be catastrophic for individual victims, the victims’ families and the community.
ZLHR also notes that according to Zimbabwe Republic Police, there has been an increase in domestic violence cases which has seen the law enforcement agency recording a spike in the number of murder cases throughout the country and yet authorities have the audacity to release some dangerous offenders from prison.
While the Constitution provides that the President exercises the power of mercy under section 112, section 90(2)(c) of the Constitution provides amongst the duties of the President that he/she must ensure the protection of the fundamental human rights and freedoms and the rule of law.
Among the fundamental rights that the President must protect is that every child in Zimbabwe must be protected from economic and sexual exploitation or any form of abuse.
The Constitution also provides that the child’s best interests is paramount in every matter concerning the child. The best interest of the child principle is also well articulated in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights. Zimbabwe has voluntarily ratified these human rights instruments and has obligations to fully implement. The decision to release child rapists is an affront to the protection of a girl child and to the best interest of the child principle.
The powers of clemency by the President and government are not exercised in isolation but are exercised with due regard to other duties imposed on the President by the Constitution, and these duties place an obligation on the President to protect fundamental human rights.
As such, releasing inmates convicted of child sexual offences offends the Constitution.
Over the years, ZLHR has been advocating for respect and protection of the rights of girls and women and has lauded the government for reforming laws on child marriages and consent.
However, all the progress made in advancing, protecting and safeguarding the rights of girls is eroded when decisions that seek to harm the girl child are made in haste without consideration of other constitutional imperatives.
In light of the current process to reform the law on sexual offences and calls to impose mandatory minimum sentence on rape, the decision to grant amnesty to sexual offenders is very retrogressive and an abomination.
Therefore, ZLHR calls upon President Mnangagwa and the government to carefully consider the decision to release child sexual offenders from prison, protect victims of rape and sexual assault and ensure that in matters relating to children, the best interests of the children concerned are always paramount. Victims of rape and communities should be protected from perpetrators through offenders serving their full-term sentences.