A leading Zimbabwean human rights lawyer has spoken of her optimism that the rule of law will be established in her home country.

Beatrice Mtetwa, who was jailed for a week in March after demanding to see a search warrant when police raided the offices of the opposition party, sounded a hopeful note when she addressed delegates at this week’s International Bar Association conference in Boston.

Mtetwa defends journalists and political opponents of the Mugabe government and has been subjected to physical abuse several times in her 20-year career.

But she said she would not give up her fight to ensure personal freedoms and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

Mtetwa: 'I am very optimistic there will be the rule of law established in Zimbabwe in my lifetime. If you look at where there has been repression it has resulted in change which is usually positive. If I didn’t think that things will change then I wouldn’t do this job.

'Vigilance at all levels is crucial. In Zimbabwe people could see things were not going right. It started with the small things which people didn’t do anything about. However small an issue is, as lawyers where we see compromises in the rule of law we ought to challenge it from the beginning and not wait until things have fallen apart.’

Mtetwa is the subject of a documentary film which opens in the UK this year charting her life as a lawyer and meeting some of the people she has helped. The film repeats the assertion that no one responsible for violence against opposition members has been prosecuted, and Mtetwa said it is essential that those responsible are brought to justice.

’There has to be naming and shaming of those responsible for violence,' she said. 'We know who did what to whom. Unfortunately because of political will nothing has been done. There is talk of an amnesty and a whole lot of perpetrators have got away with murder so to speak. This means it will just go on and on.’

Asked by an audience member whether being a woman has made her work harder, she added: 'If anything it has been easier, as I haven’t been beaten as badly as if I were a man. When I was being beaten in 2003 one of the guards said they should stop because I was a woman.’