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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Briefing report to SADC
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
    March 16, 2013

    We, as a Civil Society Organisation operating in Zimbabwe, present this briefing to the SADC Observer Team to highlight a number of concerns we have regarding the pre-referendum operating environment that has been obtaining in the country.

    Of key importance is the initial refusal by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to accredit some of our member as observers for the referendum; the unconducive legislative environment that has persisted throughout the pre-referendum period and the hostile operating environment that CSOs and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) were subjected to.

    It has now become a matter of public record that it took us writing a letter of protest to the Principals, among other actions, to ensure the eventual capitulation of ZEC over the issue resolving that all local organisations would be allowed to accredit as observers for the referendum except one.

    The affected organisation, ZimRights today managed to get the decision by ZEC set aside after filing an urgent High Court chamber application which went unopposed as ZEC conceded that it had erred. This admission by ZEC serves as vindication of the CSOs who had all along maintained that ZEC was failing to abide by the law and consequently, as noted by ZLHR:

    “Its (ZEC) refusal to abide by the principles of natural justice and its refusal to accredit observers from Zimbabwe Peace Project and ZimRights adversely affected preparations by such organisations and observers ahead of the referendum and drew time and attention away from proper preparations for the referendum - both by ZEC and the affected organisations due to negotiations and litigations”.

    It is against this background that we make an evaluation of the pre-referendum environment that has prevailed thus fur and it our considered view that the absence of substantive legislative and institutional reforms led to an environment that was fraught with bad administrative practices and the escalation of impunity for violations of laws and current constitutional safeguards.

    We consider the referendum to be a litmus test ahead of the elections and are dismayed by the fact the crucial work of CSOs who have been engaging in referendum mobilization campaigns and outreach meeting to discuss the constitution was constantly hindered in the following:

    • There had been ongoing clampdown on CSO and HRDs ahead of the referendum culminating in raids being done at the premises of 5 major CSOs, namely Counseling Services Unit, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Zimbabwe Peace Project, Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and Radio Dialogue.
    • ZRP used several public platforms, including an appearance in Parliament and press conferences to intimidate and issue threats and false information against CSOs culminating in the Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri going live on air demand a manhunt to be carried out for the apprehension of Jestina Mukoko who later surrendered herself to the police in the company of her lawyer.
    • Furthermore, the state controlled media and aligned outlets have stepped up defamatory and false publications against these CSOs as part of the sustained assault that is intended to pain CSOs as dangerous criminal elements. Hate speech and incitement against CSOs and HRDs has become rampant and has the potential to escalate out of control due to slow processes of achieving legal redress and general impunity of such state media practitioners and media houses. A case in point is the case of ZimRights director, Okay Machisa who had the case against him set aside and voided by the High Court this week - proving he had been wrongfully charged.

    We have, on numerous occasions taken to various platforms, to express our concern over the hostile operating environment that CSOs have been subjected to through incessant victimization, harassment, targeting, raids and unjustifiable detainment by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

    To CSOs, these disruptions have been a source of frustrations and inconvenience but the broader picture is that it is the Zimbabwean people who have been shortchanged by the dearth public platforms upon which they could deliberate on issues pertaining to the draft constitution ahead of the referendum.

    Cases of police disrupting referendum outreach meetings convened by CSOs to discuss the contents of the draft constitution have led to the shrinkage of democratic space where people can articulate their views and make informed choices when they go to the polls tomorrow.

    It is our contention that these actions by the police severely compromised the work of CSOs and did a great disservice to the nation at large by restricting the public space for engagement on critical issues pertaining to the referendum and other national political processes.

    Apart from the referendum outreach meetings, members of the public relied on the media reports to access information on the draft constitution. The latest report findings of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe indicated a disturbing trend in which coverage was largely skewed towards the “YES Vote” that the three main political parties have been lobbying for.

    As noted in by ZLHR: One of the greatest challenges in the run up to the referendum has been preoccupation of the three political parties to the Inclusive Government (IG) with ensuring that the draft is accepted in the national plebiscite thereby sidelining and obscuring other key reforms and processes outlined in the GPA.

    Inevitably, we approach March 16 weighed down by the knowledge that a significant percentage of the population remain largely uninformed about the draft constitution and its myriad implications due to the police’s disruption of public meeting and activities that were related to the constitution and referendum.

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