The organization has played a leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights across Zimbabwe since its founding in 1996. Guided by a professional commitment to the rule of law and Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations, ZLHR provides essential services ranging from legal support for victims of state-endorsed persecution to public education and human rights training for activists and civil society organizations working at the community level.
In 2003, ZLHR established a project to provide legal support for human rights defenders facing prosecution. Up to 1,500 Zimbabweans now benefit from the service each year, and its lawyers have yet to lose a single case in the project's five year history. Irene Petras, Executive Director of ZLHR, attributes this perfect track record to both the heroic tenacity of the project's lawyers and the fact that there is rarely any evidence to support the charges brought against their clients. “Prosecution is used as a tool of persecution,” she said. Ms. Petras and fellow lawyer Andrew Makoni will accept the John Humphrey Freedom Award on behalf of ZLHR at an Ottawa ceremony on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
“Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights provides a vital democratic lifeline for those who would otherwise have no recourse against state-sponsored abuses and persecution,” said Dr. Jacques P. Gauthier, Interim Chair of Rights & Democracy’s (the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development) Board of Directors. “Its determined, non-violent struggle against impunity and repression reminds us that, in the end, tyranny is no match for human dignity and the rule of law.”
Rights & Democracy established the annual John Humphrey Freedom Award in 1992 to honour an organization or individual for exceptional commitment to the promotion of international human rights and democratic development. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights was nominated by the Canadian Embassy in Harare. An international jury selected ZLHR unanimously from a field of almost 100 candidates.
Named in honour of John Peters Humphrey, the McGill University law professor who prepared the first draft of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the annual John Humphrey Freedom Award includes a speaking tour of Canadian cities to help increase awareness of the recipient's human rights work. This year’s tour will bring Ms. Petras and Mr. Makoni to take part in public events in Calgary (Nov. 27), Toronto (Dec. 2), Halifax (Dec. 5), Montreal (Dec. 8) and Ottawa (Dec. 10).