ZLHR condemns pardoning of sexual offenders

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has condemned the pardoning of sexual offenders in the latest presidential amnesty.

In May 2023, President Emmerson Mnangagwa freed over 4 000 prisoners and among them were sexual offenders. 

ZLHR said while the president was exercising the power of mercy, he should have considered upholding the rights of children of being protected from sexual exploitation.

“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,” the organisation noted in a statement. 

“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 human rights defenders said 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 Mangagwa’s Clemency Order provided exceptions, where inmates convicted of crimes that include rape and sexual offences would be granted amnesty,” the statement read.

ZLHR said they are 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,” read the statement.

“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.”

ZLHR said 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 decision to release child rapists is an affront to the protection of a girl child and to the best interest of the child principle,” they said.

“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.”

The organisation said 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.

“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.”

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