Zimbabwean lawyers criticize police's "shoot-to-kill" policy


HARARE – Zimbabwean lawyers have expressed strong criticism of the police's use of lethal force against suspected criminals, arguing that such a policy is unconstitutional. This outcry follows a surge in criminal cases during the festive season, with five suspects killed by police in December 2023 alone.

Crime in Zimbabwe: Police shoot to kill policy condemned by lawyers
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Lawyers argue that the use of lethal force without exhausting all other options contradicts the principles of the constitution. "No one has a right to kill anyone, save for a few exceptions as governed by law," stated lawyer Dumisani Dube. 

He emphasized the presumption of innocence, noting that many suspects are killed without trial, in flagrant violation of the law.

Dube further explained that law enforcement agents should only use minimum force in exceptional situations, such as when making an arrest or defending their lives while on duty.

Echoing Dube's sentiments, lawyer Jacqueline Sande argued that lethal force should only be a last resort, and that the execution of the death penalty should be left to the hangman. 

"It should only be used as a matter of life and death to preserve the police officer’s life, not as a means of deterring criminals from committing further offences or as a means of apprehending and convicting a criminal," Sande said.

However, lawyer Tinashe Runganga offered a different perspective, suggesting that the "shoot-to-kill policy" was a necessary evil to curb crime. 

"These are dangerous armed robbers. If you delay to shoot, they kill you. The policy protects these officers. I am not condemning their policy because most of these people who are being shot are not innocent, they are dangerous. As it stands, I think the police are professionally executing their duties," Runganga said.

In response to the criticism, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi denied the existence of a shoot-to-kill policy. 

He stated that police officers only respond in equal measure when attacked by criminals. 

"We have said that the Zimbabwe Republic Police will respond appropriately according to the merits of the particular situation when dealing with violent crimes such as armed robbery cases and that has been our official position," Nyathi said.

Acting Chief Director CID, Assistant Commissioner Jealous Nyabasa, recently reiterated the police's commitment to dealing with those who engage in criminal activities involving firearms. 

"I want to make it clear that there is no space for armed robberies in Zimbabwe. If you touch a gun, the repercussions will be severe. As we speak, this festive season we have had several encounters with armed robbers including two South Africans who were gunned down. 

"So the message is, you touch a gun, you die by the gun. We will not allow our people to suffer at the hands of armed robbers, we will deal with them severely," said Asst Comm Nyabasa.

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