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under siege: A Canadian civil society perspective
Zimbabwe Inter-Agency Reference GrouP
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In late May and early June 2004, representatives from the Zimbabwe
Inter-Agency Reference Group (ZimRef), a coalition of Canadian civil
society organisations, went to South Africa and Zimbabwe with two
objectives in mind:
- To demonstrate solidarity and strengthen
support for Zimbabwean and South African civil society groups
in the context of the current crisis in Zimbabwe; and
- To learn how Canadian civil society
can effectively influence policy makers in Canada, Zimbabwe and
The main findings of the mission can
be summarized as follows:
- Zimbabweans are experiencing a widespread
human right crisis. The police, military, prosecution and judiciary
- the traditional pillars of the rule of law - have increasingly
become partisan instruments of the state. The Public Order and
Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection
of Privacy Act (AIPPA) reflect a legislated crackdown on public
demonstrations, independent media and most forms of civil interaction.
- Most recently, the Zimbabwean government
has proposed an NGO Bill that will give them the authority to
ban foreign funding to NGOs. The government's motivation to fast
track this Bill into law before the March 2005 parliamentary elections
demonstrates its clear resolve to neutralise or shut down the
operations of selective local and international NGOs.
- The Church currently constitutes one
of the last democratic spaces in Zimbabwe. However, through a
mix of severe intimidation and patronage tactics, it is evident
that President Mugabe actively seeks to neutralise church voices
critical of him.
- On the labour front, the last four
years have been exceptionally difficult, with increased government
intolerance for dissent, legislated attacks on worker's rights,
a violent crackdown on labour activities, and routine harassment
and intimidation of labour leaders.
- In spite of the relatively good rains
and harvest in 2004, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates
that 2.4 million Zimbabweans are in need of emergency food aid.
Despite this, the government has expelled the WFP from operating
in Zimbabwe, threatening millions of Zimbabweans with starvation
and leaving the government in full control of the country's available
grain. In the lead up to the March 2005 parliamentary election,
all indications are that the politicisation of food distribution
by the government will intensify.
- HIV/AIDS statistics are horrific.
2.3 million Zimbabweans are presently infected with HIV/AIDS.
4,500 people die on a weekly basis, compared to 3,850 a year ago.
The total number of orphans has topped the one million mark. Life
expectancy has been reduced to 35 years, from 58 in 1995. The
continuing cycle of HIV/AIDS and poverty places particular burden
on women and children as social and family norms give way and
coping strategies become more desperate.
- The crisis in Zimbabwe has resulted
in an estimated 3 million people (25-30% of the population) leaving
the country over the past 4 years - with the overwhelming majority
leaving for South Africa, Botswana and England. The plight of
Zimbabweans in South Africa is grim. In a climate of xenophobia,
many refugees are victims of harassment, extortion, and police
brutality. The vast majority are unable to gain formal asylum
seeker or refugee status.
- The March 2005 parliamentary election
campaign has started and the necessary elements for a "free and
fair" pre-election period are clearly not in place. Short of an
immediate halt in the continued crackdown on the media, the judiciary
and the opposition during this pre-election period, it is a foregone
conclusion that the electoral environment will be worse than in
the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections, which
were both deemed not free and fair by the international community.
- At the Summit of Heads of State and
Government, held in Mauritius in August 2004, SADC adopted the
Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Zimbabwe's
election processes and electoral climate must be assessed against
those new Principles and Guidelines.
- The delegation was deeply dismayed
to see that there is little safe space left in Zimbabwe in which
individuals or groups can freely and peacefully disagree or express
an alternate vision about politics, social concerns or any other
issue. Popular targets of the government are the media, lawyers,
the judiciary, the labour movement and churches. Zimbabweans
and civil society are under siege.
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