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the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth Principles: Compliance or Disregard?
Rights NGO Forum
September 22, 2003
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report examines obligations upon the Government of Zimbabwe arising
from the Abuja Agreement on Zimbabwe, signed in Abuja, Nigeria on
6 September 2001. It examines commitment by the Zimbabwe Government
to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook
Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration and
its compliance with the recommendations of the Marlborough House
Statement and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement. It is published
two years following the signing of the Abuja Agreement and three
months before the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting
in Nigeria in December 2003 and is intended to provide some clarification
with regard to the Zimbabwean crisis and its causes.
The report notes
that high levels of human rights violations continue to prevail,
some of them consequent on laws such as the Public Order and Security
Act. This has been accompanied by the establishment of a culture
of impunity presided over by a seemingly partisan police force.
State agents have been frequently reported as being perpetrators
of human rights violations themselves. There has been continued
inter-party violence as a result of political intolerance. Victimisation
on the basis of political affiliation remains a common phenomenon.
since the Parliamentary Elections in June 2000, been accompanied
by organised violence and intimidation. The electorate’s freedom
of choice in electing representatives in all these elections has
been heavily constrained by victimisation of potential voters on
the basis of their political affiliation. There have been reports
of supplying food in exchange for votes and the use of retributive
force where voters are deemed not to have voted in the expected
The two main
political parties in the country have failed to engage in any meaningful
dialogue aimed at addressing the Zimbabwe crisis and the political
impasse between them as recommended by the Commonwealth. Previous
and current Commonwealth, regional and local initiatives to mediate
in the process have apparently been met with disdain. The two parties
have yet to resume talks since the breakdown of the Commonwealth-led
initiative in May 2002, although there have been deliberations by
both parties on the conditions for resumption of talks and the nature
that these negotiations would assume.
of evidence seems to indicate that the Zimbabwe Government has failed
to abide by Commonwealth Principles enshrined in the Harare Declaration,
the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration,
the Abuja Agreement itself and subsequent communiqués in
the form of the Marlborough House Statement on Zimbabwe and the
Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement.
report serves as a follow up to its two predecessors Complying
with the Abuja Agreement and Complying with the Abuja Agreement:
A Two Months Report both published at the end of 2001 following
the signing of the Abuja Agreement. The report examines obligations
imposed upon the Government of Zimbabwe arising from the Abuja Agreement
in the context of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and
the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration.
The report further attempts to present the facts for consideration
in determining whether the Abuja Agreement was ever implemented
with any degree of determination or whether it was a mere agreement
on paper and for the most part was regarded with apathy by Government.
In order to achieve this, the report will provide an overview of
events during the two-year period from September 2001, the month
in which the Abuja Agreement was brokered, until the present. The
report will also examine compliance with the recommendations of
the Marlborough House Statement and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review
Human Rights NGO Forum believes that the commitment, or lack thereof,
of the Zimbabwe Government to Commonwealth principles and past Commonwealth
initiatives to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis should determine whether
or not there is a need for stronger measures to be taken against
the Zimbabwe Government. It is in this light that a report of this
nature is considered necessary. It is published two years following
the signing of the Abuja Agreement and three months before the Commonwealth
Heads of State and Government Meeting in Nigeria and is intended
to provide some clarification with regards to the Zimbabwean crisis
and its causes.
The report focuses
on the shortcomings of the Government of Zimbabwe in its commitment
to Commonwealth principles, agreements and communiqués. The
focus is on Government’s and the ruling party’s failings as, while
the MDC may have also displayed some disregard for Commonwealth
principles, it is the Government that signed the Abuja Agreement
and it is with the Government that the obligation to abide by the
principles of the associations and international agreements, to
which it is party, rests.
Government of Zimbabwe has often asserted that the economic, social
and political problems currently plaguing the country are rooted
in the inequitable distribution of land. The Government further
claims that the reason that attempts to address these problems have
attracted an unprecedented amount of regional and international
attention is that the Government’s land reform program has been
viewed unfavourably by Britain and its fellow Western nations, white
farmers in Zimbabwe and the opposition political party the Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC), which is perceived as an extension
of these white interests. It is however the Human Rights Forum’s
contention that while the issue of land has always been and is a
very critical issue requiring urgent attention, it is debatable
as to whether the land issue is at the core of the current Zimbabwean
crisis or whether it is in fact a crisis arising out of misgovernance,
mismanagement of the economy and a political struggle to retain
power; all masqueraded as a campaign for land reform.
is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated
from other issues of concern to the Commonwealth, such as the rule
of law, respect for human rights, democracy and the economy. A programme
of land reform is, therefore, crucial to the resolution of the problem."
The Abuja Agreement indicated land as being at the core of the Zimbabwe
crisis. It however went on to stress that to consider misgovernance,
human rights violations, decline of democracy, unsustainable social
and economic development as peripheral matters to the land issue
is clearly not within the spirit of the Commonwealth as espoused
in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration.
While the land
issue has been used to divert attention away from economic decline
and a general onslaught on civil and political rights, these factors
are not causally linked with the need to redress land imbalances.
The consequence of the crisis on the enjoyment of economic and social
rights has also been severe. The economic crisis has shrouded Zimbabwe
since late 1997 predating the start of the Fast Track Land Reform
Program by at least two years. The high levels of political violence
commonly reported throughout the country, since March 2000, by no
means have their root in the need for land reform but conversely
were closely associated with elections and mass demonstrations.
Since the signing
of the Abuja Agreement violence on commercial farms has scaled down.
However, the massive displacement of commercial farm workers is
ongoing although it has received little Government attention. Farm
workers continue to be victims of gross human rights violations.
Additionally, there has certainly been no significant reduction
in the prevalence of gross human rights abuses generally. Politically
motivated violence has continued countrywide and there does not
appear to be any sincere efforts by the Government to guarantee
"the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all
citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief,
and their inalienable right to participate by means of free and
democratic political processes".
of basic human freedoms in the past two years, predominantly through
political violence, is in violation of the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth
principles. The Zimbabwe Government has failed to take firm action
against violence and intimidation as it had pledged. High levels
of inter-party political violence have been recorded throughout
the period from the signing of the Abuja Agreement to date. Such
violence, while prevailing throughout, has intensified at times
of elections having an inherent effect of constraining the electorate’s
ability to exercise the right to vote without fear. Gross human
rights violations perpetrated by some uniformed state agents also
continue to be reported. These violations appear to be taking place
with Government acquiescence and are being carried out by a seemingly
partisan police force.
evidence available at present indicates that Zimbabwe remains divergent
to the Commonwealth goal of "promoting democracy and good
governance, human rights and the rule of law, gender equality and
sustainable economic and social development." High levels
of human rights violations continue to prevail, some of them entrenched
in laws such as the Public Order and Security Act. There has been
continued disregard for the rule of law and manipulation of the
judiciary that has compromised equal access to justice. This has
been accompanied by the establishment of a culture of impunity presided
over by a seemingly partisan police force. Economic decline has
accelerated as a result of mismanagement, coupled with engagement
in an unsustainable land reform program that has only served to
aggravate food insecurity in the country.
since the Parliamentary Elections in June 2000, been held in an
environment that does not favour a transparent, free and fair electoral
process. Organised violence and intimidation have preceded and commonly
followed the Parliamentary Elections of June 2000, the Presidential
Election of March 2002, Rural District and Urban Council Elections
of September 2002, Urban Council Elections of August 2003 and constituency
by-elections held alongside and in between these major election
periods. The electorate’s freedom of choice in electing representatives
in all these elections has been heavily constrained by victimising
persons on the basis of their political affiliation, supplying food
in exchange for votes and the use of retributive force where voters
are deemed not to have voted "correctly".
among others, indicate that the Zimbabwe Government has for over
three years and indeed since the signing of the Abuja Agreement
displayed a disregard for the Commonwealth Principles enshrined
in the Harare Declaration, the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme
on the Harare Declaration, the Abuja Agreement itself and subsequent
communiqués in the form of the Marlborough House Statement
on Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement. There has
been no directive given to the police, army or the intelligence
organisation to cease gratuitous use of violence against Zimbabwean
citizens and to ensure the impartial prosecution of all perpetrators
of political violence. The Zimbabwe Government has apparently acquiesced
to human rights violations, in particular those at the hands of
uniformed state agents.
The fact that
the crisis far transcends the land issue is evidenced by the reality
that long after President Mugabe announced the end of the Fast Track
Land Reform Program (in August 2002); Zimbabwe remains buried in
a political, social and economic crisis. The Zimbabwe Government’s
disregard of the Abuja Agreement, Marlborough House Statement, Zimbabwe
Mid-Term Review and other Commonwealth recommendations warrants
stronger measures to be taken by the Commonwealth.
Human Rights Forum calls upon the Zimbabwe Government and the Commonwealth
(as the architect of the Abuja Agreement) and other regional groupings
including the African Union, SADC, and the ACP to acknowledge that
the Zimbabwean crisis does not have a single nucleus in the issue
of land redistribution but rather is a multi-faceted crisis.
We call upon
them to recognise the crisis as resultant of the combination of
racial inequities in possession of land that date back to forceful
occupation of land by colonial settlers in the late 19th
to early 20th century; the endemic political violence
and human rights abuses; a partisan and politicised judiciary; the
break down in the rule of law and a deteriorating economic and social
environment that has prevailed since March 2000.
It is of in
the particular interest to African countries to accurately diagnose
the crisis for as the Abuja Agreement aptly stated it, "the
situation in Zimbabwe poses a threat to the socio-economic stability
of the entire sub-region and the continent at large". Misdiagnosing
the crisis, as has been the case to date, perpetuates further decline
of the Zimbabwean nation and subsequent negative effects on Africa.
be made, in particular by regional mediators, to reach a consensus
as to the approaches that should be taken to address the Zimbabwean
crisis. Disparate positions on the roots of the crisis and its plausible
solutions have to date heavily contributed to the deterioration
of an already desperate situation.
We call upon
them to recognise that these factors pertaining to the Zimbabwean
crisis are inter-related and cannot and should not be dealt with
as elements independent of each other, or as a single core issue
with several minor implications.
ZANU PF and the MDC should be resumed as a matter of urgency. Civil
society must not be left out of the process as a critical constituency.
Negotiations must proceed in good faith. It would be deplorable
for either party to resume negotiations superficially as a face
saving measure to provide troika members with cause to petition
for Zimbabwe’s readmission into the Councils of the Commonwealth
in Nigeria in December. Negotiations should be entered into with
sincerity and with the aim of addressing the Zimbabwean crisis.
of intolerance and impunity in Zimbabwe must be urgently addressed.
Perpetrators of past and present human rights violations must be
made accountable so as not to perpetuate further abuses.
Government efforts to review the Fast Track Land Reform Program,
we call for an independent assessment of the Fast Track Land Reform
Program in order to establish land ownership and occupancy of reportedly
redistributed land, taking corrective measures to ensure security
of tenure and equitable, non partisan, rational and sustainable
redistribution of land.
We call upon
the Zimbabwe Government, in upholding the principles contained in
the Harare Declaration, to take firm measures to end political violence,
gross human rights violations, including the disbanding of militia
groups. We further call upon the Government to ensure that the rule
of law prevails and that there is impartial investigation and prosecution
of all crimes by the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
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