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Violent dispersal of peaceful demonstration of health workers by the police
Front Line
November 20, 2008

Mr Robert Gabriel Mugabe,
Office of the President,
Munhumutapa Building,
Samora Machel Avenue,
Harare, Zimbabwe

Your Excellency,

Front Line is seriously concerned by reports received of violent police repression of a peaceful demonstration of health workers at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, on 18 November 2008. The march had been organised by health workers from Harare Central and Parirenyatwa Hospitals to protest against the collapse of the public health system. They had planned to march to the offices of the Minister of Health and Child Welfare to present a petition calling for urgent action to be taken to restore accessible and affordable health care in Zimbabwe.

According to reports received, on 18 November 2008, at approximately 8:00 am, heavily armed riot police prevented the protesters from proceeding with their march from where they had gathered on Leopold Takawira Street outside Parirenyatwa Hospital. The group then held their protest within the grounds of Parirenyatwa Hospital for four hours before riot police entered the hospital grounds at 11:45 am and forcibly dispersed them, assaulting several health workers in the process.

According to health officials, Zimbabwe's public health care system is alleged to be in a state of crisis. It has been paralyzed by drug shortages, insufficient medical supplies, the withdrawal of maternity services, poor infrastructure, equipment breakdowns and a serious outbreak of cholera.

The hospitals Harare Central and Parirenyatwa, where the health personnel in the demonstrations are employed, are virtually closed. These health workers have reportedly continued to attempt to deliver health services despite the extremely challenging conditions of the current health care system.

These events represent the last of a series of cases of violent dispersal of peaceful demonstrations by the police. On 27 October 2008, two peaceful demonstrations, organised by the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WcoZ) and the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), to protest against the delayed conclusion of the peace talks between Zimbabwe's three major political parties were also violently dispersed by the police with tear gas, baton sticks and dogs, resulting in over 100 protesters injured.

Front Line believes that the aforementioned health workers were attacked as a result of their legitimate work in defence of human rights, in particular the right to health and access to health care. Front Line is deeply concerned that this repression appears to form part of a trend of systematic use of force by the security forces against peaceful demonstrations in Zimbabwe.

Front Line urges the Zimbabwean authorities to:

  1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force by the police to disperse peaceful demonstrations, and publish the findings of this investigation with the aim of bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee compliance by the police with international standards governing the use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances respect for the right to freedom of assembly and for the right of everyone to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe.

Front Line respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of assembly and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw attention to Article 5(a): "For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right [...] to meet or assemble peacefully", and to Article 12 (1): " Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

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