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Briefing report to SADC
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.
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:
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
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,
Services Unit, Zimbabwe
Human Rights Association, Zimbabwe
Peace Project, Zimbabwe
Elections Support Network and Radio
- 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.
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
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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