Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Right to Education Violated in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

03 February 2009


Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expresses its concern about the sudden demand for exorbitant examination fees by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), purportedly to enable students to write their second semester examinations. On 2 February 2009 the UZ administration published a notice to the effect that: “… each student is required to pay an examination fee of $US400.00. The examination fee must be paid strictly in cash at the Bursar’s department… no later than 12 Noon Wednesday 11th February… Students are also reminded that end of semester examinations begin on 16th February…” Clearly a failure to pay such an amount within the notice period will result in students foregoing their examinations which begin just five days after the end of the notice period.
ZLHR is aware that on 3 February 2009 UZ students undertook a demonstration in protest against the US$400 examination fee. During the demonstration some students were viciously assaulted by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). At least 60 students were arrested and detained at Avondale Police Station. ZLHR was able to secure the release of five (5) students on medical grounds; the remainder of the group is slowly being released by the police. The police have indicated that at least three (3) students will be kept in custody with charges to be leveled against them, although the charges have not yet been put to them.
ZLHR is disgusted by the continued use of violence by the police force against defenceless citizens, and the arbitrary arrests, detention and subsequent release of detainees without charge, meant simply to harass students and prevent them from exercising their fundamental right to assembly and expression.
ZLHR further unreservedly condemns the UZ’s demands for such foreign currency payments as a precondition for the writing of examinations, which currency and amount the majority of students will not be able to afford, more so given that they have less than two weeks to raise the amount. Many of the students attending the UZ are from middle-class, low-income and underprivileged families in Zimbabwe, which are not able to raise the US$400 examination fees being demanded by the University, let alone the US$1000–$1800 which students will be asked to pay in fees next semester. It is unfortunate that while government is allowing the UZ to charge students in foreign currency, many of the affected persons who have to raise these fees are civil servants whom the same government still wants to pay in Zimbabwe dollars. Ultimately many students will not be able to raise these amounts and will be forced to forego the present semester’s examinations and their future studies at the University. The right to education of many students, which is protected in terms of national legislation and through regional and international instruments to which the government has voluntarily bound itself, thus stands to be grossly denied them, without remedy.
ZLHR calls upon the University of Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education to immediately review the decision by the University to charge examination fess of US$400 and use this as a precondition for the writing of examinations. The University of Zimbabwe must allow all students who paid their tuition fees for the current second semester to write their end of semester examinations. Further, a review must be undertaken of the University’s intention to charge all tuition fees in United States dollars as a matter of urgency.
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