HARARE – Human rights campaigners have urged the Zimbabwean government to stop a police shoot-to-kill policy against criminals as the country sinks into worsening crime.
Rights campaigners said the policy violates all laws and regulations, both Zimbabwean and international, and has demanded that the police immediately retract this faulty policy and replace it with reasonable and legal policies for regulating police work.
Scores of officers have been killed in the line of duty in gunfire exchange with daring criminals, mainly robbers and carjackers, and figures are likely to rise as violent crime steadily rises as the economy flat lines.
The police has also been dragged to court by families of deceased criminals who say they were shot by the police, allegedly deliberately.
There are fears that more violence will be sparked by the decree to use lethal force against violent criminals.
At a memorial service of detective assistant inspector Thadius Chipanga, who was killed last Wednesday, head of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), assistant commissioner Simon Nyathi told mourners at Morris Depot over the weekend that the police force has been allowed to match criminals’ firepower with deadly force, and permitted to “shoot-to-kill” without worrying about what happens next.
Rights activists called on the Zimbabwean government to issue an urgent order to police to stop using “lethal force.”
Lovemore Madhuku, a constitutional law expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer, said while Zimbabwean security forces have a duty to rein in criminal violence, shooting to kill was illegal.
“It’s illegal, it’s very illegal, they cannot shoot to kill,” Madhuku told the Daily News. “Of course they can kill in self-defence.”
Human rights groups and others warned that such macho rhetoric would lead to innocent people being killed by gung-ho policemen believing they had been let off the leash by the police chief.
Irene Petras, executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said in terms of the law, police should have reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed.
“Where a suspect is resisting arrest, they can use reasonable force,” Petras said. “They are supposed to judge and use the force that is necessary if a suspect is resisting.
“Shooting-to-kill, that should only be used in extreme circumstances where they can’t use any other alternatives.
“It should be the last resort; it should never be the first option. It should be used when there is no other way in terms of subduing the suspect. There must be a reasonable cause.”
Nyathi told mourners at the funeral of Chipanga that violent crime was out of control and okayed the new “shoot-to-kill” dispensation.
He spoke hours before suspected armed robber Takesure Dumba, an ex-cop, alleged to have killed Chapinga, died in a shoot-out with the police.
Chapinga is the latest cop to be killed in the line of duty by criminals. Earlier on January 5 this year, police exchanged gunfire with suspected carjacker Richard Timba in Queensdale, critically injuring him.
In 2010 chief superintendent Lawrence Chatikobo was gunned down by robbers in Bulawayo while sergeant Joseph Maximus was killed in Harare.
In 2011 inspector Petros Mutedza was killed in Glen View.
“They have started a war they will never win. As police, we now have orders to shoot and kill such perpetrators,” said Nyathi.
“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
But Madhuku said the officer was effectively telling his officers: kill and you will not be held accountable, kill and you will be rewarded.
“Even the issuing of that statement is a serious offence,” Madhuku said.
“It shows a society with no regard for the rule of law. They must place you before to court. If they kill, they become a judicial body not a police department. It’s illegal and contrary to the rule of law. It shows lawlessness.”
He said police were allocating themselves extra-judicial powers to carry out summary executions.
The constitutional law expert said police was an arresting authority not a court of law.
“They should arrest, the judicial body will try the person and if they are guilty they will be punished. These are separate roles,” Madhuku said. “It is the role of the executive to execute the sentence or punishment. Even if you are convicted for murder, it does not necessarily mean death sentence. The president can serve a clemency of mercy. It’s completely wrong.”
“They can’t give themselves that power. Its contrary to the rule of law. The state must never do that through the police.”
He said the policy turns the police from an institution responsible for preserving citizens’ safety, arresting suspects and bringing them to justice, to one that immediately punishes suspects, without resorting to the judiciary or the law, and in the worst possible way; intentional murder.
He emphasised that the law does not allow intentional killings for the sole reason that “armed robbers or carjackers started shooting” — as the police say — although the law does allow the use of firearms under specific conditions.
Zimbabwean law allows policemen to use firearms only when arresting a suspect caught red-handed for a felony in which an arrest is permitted, if this is the only way to achieve the arrest.
According to the law, the policeman must first give warning that he will use firearms, and must use it in accordance to regulations.
Firearms can only be used to secure an arrest and prevent an escape; the police law in no way permits the targeting of individuals with the intention of killing them.
There are also legal conditions in cases of defence of self or others against an imminent life-threatening danger, including that the person defending himself must be facing an imminent and severe danger which they cannot prevent by any other means.
Police officers also have powers that allow them to defend themselves and others without resorting to firearms, such as arrests, searches, and interrogations.
In all cases, any case of death requires a full judicial investigation, and the burden of proof lies on the officer to prove he was in a situation of self-defence.
Previously police, who have themselves often been gunned down by the “Wild West-style” gangs that terrorise Zimbabwe’s cities once in a while, were required to fire warning shots. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor