Individual Freedoms & State Security in the African Context: The Case of Zimbabwe

By John Hatchard | Go to book overview

1 Emergency Powers & Individual
Freedoms: An Overview

Introduction

There comes a time in the life of almost every nation when a situation arises which threatens its security. Even in peacetime a government may legitimately declare a state of emergency and obtain additional powers in order to combat some grave danger. In this respect it is the international law equivalent of an individual's right to self-defence under the criminal law. Inevitably, the use of these powers has serious implications for individual freedoms which are often curtailed or abrogated as a result. In this book the term 'individual freedoms' covers those categories of human rights which are internationally accepted as requiring protection but which are often endangered by State action in times of national crisis. These are, the right to life and liberty, freedom of movement, association, and conscience, protection from torture and other inhuman treatment, and protection of the law.

This book is a case study of the relationship between individual freedoms and emergency powers in Zimbabwe and seeks to highlight some of the problems associated with the use of such powers in contemporary Africa. A study on Zimbabwe is particularly pertinent because the country was under a continual state of emergency for twenty-five years, during which time the question of the protection of individual freedoms was of considerable concern, both domestically and internationally. Originally introduced in the then white‐ ruled Rhodesia in 1965, the state of emergency was retained after independence in 1980 and was only finally lifted in July 1990. In view of the dangers posed to individual freedoms by emergency powers, the book examines in particular (i) the justification for the declaration/retention of a state of emergency; (ii) the scope of emergency regulations and their impact on individual freedoms; and (iii) what safeguards are necessary in order to protect those freedoms during a period of emergency. It is asserted that even if a state of emergency is justified, this does not necessitate or justify the complete abrogation or curtailment of the exercise of individual freedoms. Such justification must be considered in the light of the fact that the worst abuses frequently occur when the State has abandoned its commitment to individual freedoms in favour of protecting security interests. Throughout the book, a comparison with other African jurisdictions is made whilst the model which is proposed for the protection of individual freedoms during a state of emergency is one which is potentially applicable to the entire continent.

The relationship between individual freedoms and emergency powers is studied from a legal and political perspective and entails an examination of the role law has played, is playing and may play in this respect. These issues are particularly significant because emergency powers have been a central feature of many contemporary African nations and especially those characterised by executive, centralised, authoritarian regimes. A study of Zimbabwe is thus important because it remains a multi-party State with a constitution

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