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Between a rock and a hard place - women human rights defenders at
July 25, 2007
The link also
takes you to a webpage with audio material available to listen to
and download, including testimonies with women human rights defenders.
There is also a short video you can watch, using footage from the
Solidarity Peace Trust.
There is also
a webaction for people to take action: http://web.amnesty.org/pages/zwe-220307-action-eng
a copy of this report
PDF version (6 531KB)
If you do not have the free Acrobat reader
on your computer, download it from the Adobe website by clicking
to an Amnesty International audio feature on women activists
audio file details
The human rights
situation in Zimbabwe has been deteriorating rapidly since 2000.
Human rights violations are taking place in a context characterised
by a fast-shrinking economy that is being accelerated by government
policies. Those policies, particularly on land reform and forced
evictions, have contributed significantly to reducing the entire
population's capacity to obtain access to their rights to
food, health, education and housing.
Zimbabwean women, who
are active in dedicated women's rights organizations and in
other human rights organizations, are mobilising to confront the
government in response to the violation of economic and social rights.
They are demanding respect for and protection of their own human
rights and the rights of members of their communities.
After the government
of Zimbabwe's programme of mass forced
evictions in 2005 an estimated 700,000 people lost their homes
or livelihoods or both. The forced evictions drove people not only
from their homes, but also from their market stalls, depriving informal
traders of their means of earning a living. Women were disproportionately
affected by this policy since they constitute the majority of informal
market traders and are often the primary providers, not only for
their own children but also for other children orphaned by the AIDS
pandemic. Many women, from both urban and rural areas, are finding
it increasingly difficult to buy food, pay for medical care and
earn a living.
and social conditions have worsened, the government of Zimbabwe
has become increasingly intolerant of critics of its policies. Since
2000, the government has condoned the widespread use by the Zimbabwe
Republic Police of excessive force, torture, arbitrary arrest and
detention of government critics. These include trade unionists,
human rights defenders, media workers, NGO workers, lawyers, students
and other perceived opponents of the government. Since 2005, hundreds
of human rights defenders, the majority of them women, have been
arbitrarily arrested and detained for engaging or attempting to
engage in peaceful protest marches or meetings. Most women interviewed
by Amnesty International have reported being subjected to beatings
and ill-treatment while in police custody. The beatings, in some
instances, amounted to torture.
up to defend their economic and social rights, face further human
rights violations as women and as human rights defenders, including
sexist verbal abuse and derogatory accusations. Women human rights
defenders have been persistently denied their rights to freedom
of expression, association and assembly. In addition, women human
rights defenders in rural areas are being denied equal access to
necessary cheap maize sold by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). Since
2000, the government has used the law, in particular, the Public
Order and Security Act (POSA), the Miscellaneous Offences Act
(MOA) and later the Criminal
Codification Act to undermine the ability of human rights defenders
to promote and protect human rights. The police have categorized
as criminal all legitimate activities of human rights defenders,
as recognized in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and
reaffirmed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples'
Rights in their Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
in Africa. Women human rights defenders in detention have been humiliated
and denied food, water, medical care and access to lawyers. Some
have even been detained while pregnant or with their babies or infants.
They are held in deplorable conditions which fall far below international
human rights standards.
The treatment of women
human rights defenders in custody has had dire consequences on them
and their families, particularly on children who are often left
without care while their mothers or carers are detained for days.
However, in the face
of an increasing government clampdown, Zimbabwean women human rights
defenders have demonstrated great resilience, bravery and determination
to end human rights violations. They are aware of the obstacles
and the dangers they face, yet they refuse to be intimidated.
focuses on the circumstances of women human rights defenders in
Zimbabwe. It explores their motivations and objectives. It documents
human rights violations experienced by women human rights defenders,
and the tools of repression used by the government to crush dissent.
The report also looks at the government of Zimbabwe's obligations
under regional and international human rights treaties, and makes
recommendations to the government of Zimbabwe, the Southern Africa
Development Community and the international community, particularly
the African Union.
understands human right defenders to be people who act to promote
and protect human rights. They may be victims and survivors of human
rights violations themselves, or friends or relatives of victims
of human rights violations seeking to redress the violations suffered
by their relatives. Alternatively, they may be journalists, lawyers,
members of human rights organizations or politicians who speak out
against government repression, who are working for the promotion
and protection of human rights for all. They are human rights defenders
because of what they do, not because of their job or profession.
Article 12 of the UN
Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognizes the right of everyone
"individually and in association with others, to participate
in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental
freedoms." It places an obligation on the state to "take
all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent
authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others,
against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure
adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as
a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights."
The bulk of the information
in the report was gathered during a three-week mission by Amnesty
International to Zimbabwe in February and March 2007. Amnesty International
interviewed 59 women in Bulawayo, Insiza district in Matabeleland
South province, Masvingo, Chivi district in Masvingo province, Mutare,
Chegutu and Harare. Delegates interviewed professional women and
student activists, women from townships and rural areas. The women
ranged in age from late teens to women in their 60s. Amnesty International
also interviewed male human rights defenders who are experiencing
similar constraints and violations.
made several requests for meetings with government officials, in
writing and in person, but failed to secure a single interview.
Some of the names of
the people mentioned in this report have been changed in order to
protect their identity.
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