Zimbabwe's Court Denies the Right of Sex Workers to Associate

African Regional Correspondent

The Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), an organisation that provides health services to sex workers in Zimbabwe filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court. They were seeking an order to compel Home Affairs minister Igantius Chombo to stop interfering with the sex workers' awareness march. The march was meant to raise awareness around increasing violence against sex workers in Zimbabwe. The application was dismissed by the courts on 6 July 2017. The march was meant to occur in December 2015, but still remains banned.

“I am persuaded that this court cannot ignore the moral consensus of the society. If the law is out of touch with the moral conscious of society, the law is brought into contempt and results in an absurdity. Morality broadly refers to the morality actually accepted and shared by a given social group. The law must reflect and express the moral wishes of that community. It is my finding, therefore, that there ought to be a limitation of the fundamental right to demonstrate based on public morality,” Justice Makonese ruled. This is in clear violation of NSWP’s Consensus Statement on Sex Work, Human Rights and the Law, which states sex workers have the right to associate and organise.

SRC argued the police ban was unlawful, and violated the rights of sex workers and other sexual minorities. The respondents opposed the application, indicating that the ban on the event was based on morality.

On 11 December 2015, SRC wrote a letter to the police requesting clearance for a peaceful march in Bulawayo. They said in their letter that they are an organisation working with the sex workers and in light of escalating violence against sex workers, they intended to conduct awareness campaigns in efforts to stop the violence.

The police denied the right of SRC to march.

A letter from the police declining to clear the march read: “I regret to inform you that this office cannot sanction the event due to fact that a sex worker (prostitution) is illegal.”

Justice Makonese ruled that sex work was not illegal. He said police did not ban the march for the ‘right reasons’. He said the police should have banned the march because of it violates the morality of Zimbabwean society.  

Justice Makonese concluded by saying the fundamental rights of sex workers’ may be limited when it is necessary in the interest of public morality.