Monday, October 07, 2013

(SUNDAY MAIL ZW) EU ambassador in trouble
Sunday, 08 September 2013 00:00
Munyaradzi Huni

The European Union Head of Delegation to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia, has sparked a diplomatic row with Harare after he wrote a letter to the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court requesting to hold a meeting with judges from the Electoral and Constitutional courts “to exchange views on electoral petitions.”

The request for the meeting has been described by the outgoing Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, as “totally unacceptable” in diplomatic circles while a legal expert has said the move by the ambassador was “very shocking” and based on total disrespect for African institutions.

In his letter dated, August 29 2013, addressed to the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr Walter Chikwana, Ambassador Dell’Ariccia wrote saying:

“I would hereby like to kindly request your support in facilitating the organisation of meetings with members of the Constitutional and Electoral Courts in order to exchange views on electoral petitions.

The delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Zimbabwe would be available for such a meeting between 3, 4 and 6 September 2013.

“The following persons will participate to the meetings on behalf of the European Union:“— Mr Giles Entikap, charge d’affaires
“— Ms Vazquez-Horyaans, head of section
“— Ms Isabelle Ribot, attaché
“— Mr Armin Rabitsch, consultant
“— Ms Gaelle Deriaz, consultant. . .”

On September 3 2013, Mr Chikwana responded:

“Reference is made to your minute dated 29th of August 2013.
“Your letter was forwarded to the Honourable Chief Justice who has authorised me to give the following response:

“Members of the Constitutional Court and Electoral Court do not hold meetings with anybody other than the litigants or their legal representatives regarding matters that are pending before the respective courts.

“Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for me to facilitate the meeting you have requested.”

While Ambassador Dell’Ariccia was trying to conceal his “undiplomatic” request through the letter to Mr Chikwana, a junior officer in his office, Mr Entikap, was busy implementing an even more provocative Plan B that left Cde Chinamasa seething with anger.

Last Wednesday Mr Entikap led a delegation comprising the EU officials listed above to a meeting with Cde Chinamasa at the Zanu-PF Headquarters where he misrepresented facts, saying the delegation comprised of experts on electoral issues.

The delegation was meeting Cde Chinamasa in his capacity as Zanu-PF deputy secretary for legal affairs and they left the meeting an embarrassed lot after they were dressed down.

Speaking to The Sunday Mail last Friday, Cde Chinamasa explained:

“They presented themselves to me as experts on electoral issues who had been mandated by the EU to make assessment of our electoral system. They said they make such assessments the world over and they wanted to interact with me over our electoral system, which is what happened in that meeting.

“At the end of the meeting, they then asked, through Mr Entikap who was accompanying them, if I could clear a meeting of this group with judges of the Electoral Court and judges of the Constitutional Court.

“I must say, I blew my top. It’s unheard of that you have people coming to meet with your judiciary over matters which are before them or even on any other matter. Judges do not decide policy, if issues to be discussed were about policy.

“I was very angry that they would have the temerity to ask for a meeting with judges before whom are election petitions.

“I told them off that this was unacceptable because they are seeking to influence the courts in their consideration of matters which are before them.

“And that they are seeking to sway them in a particular direction and that they are undermining, by their very request, the independence of the judiciary. This is a matter which goes to the core of the judiciary.

“I don’t even meet the judges even as minister and no one else in Zimbabwe does that and yet you have these people from the European Union, which we all know has basically condemned our elections, coming and wanting to meet these judges when all of us know that there are election petitions pending.

“So I told them off. What I didn’t know was that when they said they wanted me to clear the meeting, they had already written to the Chief Registrar requesting him to facilitate the meeting.

“Fortunately, the registrar responded and he gave them the correct position. A court cannot have meetings to discuss cases pending before them with people other than the litigants if they are not represented or with their legal representatives. Where they are not represented, yes, the court can meet the litigants, but where they are represented, it’s not even right for the court to meet litigants alone without the presence of their legal practitioners. It’s unheard of. What has been sought here is basically uncouth, undemocratic and it undermines the independence of the judiciary.”

Cde Chinamasa accused the EU of double standards, saying the request clearly showed that the regional grouping has no respect for the country’s institutions.

“This is coming from the very countries which boast of promoting the rule of law, which boast of promoting the independence of the judiciary and they are on the forefront of undermining our judiciary. You can understand the double standards, the duplicity of these countries. They don’t respect our institutions. They wouldn’t do this in their own countries or allow anyone else, let alone anyone else from outside their countries, including ambassadors to meet their judges to discuss cases which are pending before those judges. So it’s very clear that they have no respect for our institutions and they practise double standards,” explained a visibly angry Cde Chinamasa.

He said after discovering that their sinister move had been shot down, Mr Entikap later apologised and left the meeting embarrassed.

“When they discovered that their request had provoked me, they said, ahh, no we understand. They were apologetic, but very embarrassed. They seemed quite surprised by my quick and angry reaction. They were shocked that I responded in that fashion, but it was a correct response. We should not allow other people, other countries to come and undermine our institutions here,” said Cde Chinamasa.

One of the country’s top lawyers, Mr Terrence Hussein, expressed shock that Ambassador Dell’Ariccia had the guts to write such an undiplomatic letter.

“I am really, really, surprised that the ambassador did such a thing. It’s unheard of to do that. The Zimbabwean ambassador to Belgium or any other country for that matter, an ambassador for any country can never dream of writing such a letter to the Chief Justice of any country because it’s undiplomatic.

“If there was any need, the ambassador should have written to the Minister of Justice, who is the political face of the justice system in Zimbabwe. The Supreme Court of the US or any country in the world would not accept such a letter from an ambassador or anyone. It’s just not done. I don’t know whether it’s ignorance or what, but on this one, the ambassador was badly advised,” said Mr Hussein.

Constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku at first was too stunned to hear that Ambassador Dell’Ariccia could do such an “unthinkable thing.”

“It’s really shocking that the ambassador did that. I just can’t believe it because the request does not make sense from both the diplomatic and legal point of view. I, however, think this request was done out of disrespect of institutions that exist not only in Zimbabwe but Africa. Such a thing is unthinkable outside Africa. The judiciary does not discuss any matters with anyone.

“If anyone wants to know what the judges think, he or she reads the judgment on the particular case. Judges are not allowed to discuss pending or cases resolved by themselves. That way the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed,” said Prof Madhuku.

He said the response from the Chief Justice was “correct in principle but was too polite for this kind of interference. I think the Chief Justice should have ignored the letter and hand it over to the Executive which was supposed to tell the ambassador to go to hell.”

The undiplomatic request by Ambassador Dell’Ariccia comes hard on the heels of the “blatant lie” by the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ms Deborah Bronnert, who made claims on Sky News soon after the July 31 elections that 10 000 voters were assisted to vote in a constituency where 17 000 voters cast their vote.

Ms Bronnert had been stung by Zanu-PF and President Mugabe’s resounding victory and when she was confronted to substantiate her claims, she failed to do so, drawing brickbats from many Zimbabweans.

“This (disrespect for African institutions) is a new form of imperialism that Africa should fight with the same determination and stamina that was shown by those who fought to liberate the continent,” concluded Prof Madhuku.

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