L4L Acceptance speech Alec Muchadehama on receiving the first Lawyers for Lawyers Award
Highlights from Alec Muchadehama’s acceptance speech
I would like to say that I am so pleased to be here today. During the programmes I have experienced great moments, moments which I am sure will live in my mind forever. On the 15th of January 2011, I received an email from the President of Lawyers for Lawyers, suggesting that I was to be awarded the inaugural Lawyers for Lawyers Award. I could not believe my eyes and mind. It was like a dream. All of us have the experiences of good dreams. No one wants to wake up to the realities of everyday life with all its attendant ups and downs.
Fortunately for me, it was not a dream. Today I have lived this dream to attend at this function and to receive the award. I am most humbled to be nominated for this award and to receive it.
The award means a lot of things personally to me:
– It means that though I am not the most appropriate recipient, I am privileged to stand before you and before the world to claim this position and to stand here because no one else is standing here.
– It means that Lawyers for Lawyers have seen it fit to honor me, an almost nonentity lawyer in a small country called Zimbabwe.
I have been put on a pedestal no other Zimbabwean lawyer has stood on before.
The award is an inaugural one. This means that I am the first to receive such a prestigious award, first among equals, accepting an award which may not belong to me.
I feel I am on top of the world. An audience was once asked by a great philosopher what was below a large stone. Some said scorpions, some said lizards, some said snakes while other said soil. The philosopher said the whole world was under the stone.
For now I am the only one standing here claiming this prestigious award. I can therefore safely claim to be on top of the whole world, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons because I am the least deserving candidate. I hope it is not a question of mistaken identity.
I am pleasantly surprised. As I have said, there are by far more deserving candidates not only in Zimbabwe but throughout the whole world.
The award is being given to me by other lawyers, learned friends and members of this esteemed profession. In ancient times one would curse their enemies by wishing them among lawyers. I do not feel so cursed, I feel humbled and honored.
I always describe myself as an ordinary lawyers doing ordinary work for the ordinary person. Such a person can hardly be a suitable candidate for any award.
This award belongs to all lawyers and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe and the world over who have made a stance against violations of human rights and the rule of law. I dedicate this award to them.
I would like to thank Lawyers for Lawyers for bestowing such a great honor upon me. I shall forever cherish this great moment and this award for the rest of my life.
Whatever the organizers might have considered, the message has been clear. Lawyers will not, must not, shall not, cannot, should not stand idle when lawyers’ work anywhere in the world is being impeded by capricious rulers. Equally, lawyers will not stand aloof anywhere in the world when human rights are being trampled upon and when the rule of law is under attack.
During today’s programs I have experienced great moments; moments where I have listened to erudite speakers on the issues of human rights and the rule of law. These issues are currently at the center stage of discourses in Zimbabwe.
Since 1980 to date, Zimbabwe has been bedeviled by tremendous challenges regarding human rights and the rule of law. Most of the challenges are man-made or man-induced.
In 1980 Zimbabwe attained political independence. I was then a toddler but nonetheless able to appreciate the goings on and the anticipated future.
The feelings brought about by independence gave us great hope. That was one of the most positive feelings of hope that I have ever experienced in my life and I am sure many Zimbabweans.
In Zimbabwe any person or group of persons perceived to be anti-Zanu (PF) can get arbitrarily arrested and detained. This has become one of Zanu (PF) strategies since 1998. It must be borne in mind that such arbitrary arrests are widespread, deliberate and systematic.
Our work as lawyers in Zimbabwe has not been easy, especially in the field of human rights litigation and advocacy.
Lawyers in Zimbabwe have been physically assaulted and tortured. Some have been arrested, imprisoned and detained. It is very difficult to get access to our clients at Police Stations.
We have had to approach the Courts for applications for harbeas corpus, to have access to our clients, to get them food, to get them treated mostly after torture by the Police and to get them to Court. It has been a struggle all the way.
Matters have not been helped by a partisan Police force and an ineffective Attorney-General’s office which pamper to political whims.
Zimbabwe is also a State Party to many international instruments which provide for the protection of lawyers in the execution of their duties. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the continued vilification, harassment, intimidation, assaults, arrests and detentions of lawyers are breaches of not only Zimbabwe’s own domestic legislation, but also constitute a flouting of internationally recognized principles, standards and basic conditions under which lawyers are supposed to operate. It is a threat to the rule of law and democracy in Zimbabwe.
The State has the primary duty to protect lawyers and to enhance their operations. […].
It is my sincere belief that human rights are sacrosanct and universally applicable. Zimbabwe must conform to internationally and regionally accepted human rights norms. Such rights are enshrined in the UN Charter on Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the SADC principles and those found in the Zimbabwean constitution itself.
Zimbabwe could also do well to remember that Human rights have existed since time immemorial. They are the in there African cultural/traditional and customary practices. They are there in the Bible – the Word of God itself. They are part of human nature and are subsumed under the African concept of humanism – unhu/hunhu/ubuntu.
I have a dream that one day the situation in Zimbabwe will improve tremendously in all fields, in the economic sphere as well as the political sphere. I dream that one day as lawyers we shall be allowed to execute our duties without fear for harassment and intimidation. For now, we cannot rest but do the little that we can and in our own small way help victims of political repression and in the process highlight issues of human rights, the rule of law, judicial independence and the independence of the legal profession.
As Martin Luther King said in his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech:
“[…] Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlight path of racial justice. […] there will neither be rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice roles down like water and righteousness like a mighty scream. I say to you today, even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
[…] We will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of old Negro spirituals, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
Once again I would want to thank all of you for this wonderful opportunity. This award will always be a reminder to me to continue doing the right thing even at personal risk of arrest and physical harm.
The award is also a great encouragement to all lawyers who find themselves being haunted and harassed for doing the right things. They can take comfort well knowing that their colleagues are not only watching and concerned, but that those colleagues can actually do positive things and take steps to protect themselves.
I thank you, and may God bless you all.
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