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A call to action: The crisis in Zimbabwe - SADC's human rights credibility on the line
Human Rights Watch
August 15, 2007

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I. Introduction

II. Taking Action to Address the Human Rights Crisis

A. The Deployment of Human Rights Monitors
B. Priority Areas of Concern

1. Freedom of Association and Assembly
2. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
3. Freedom of Expression and Information
4. Harassment and Obstruction of Civil Society Activists, including Human Rights
5. Excessive Use of Force by Police and other Security Forces
6. Impunity

III. Conclusion

I. Introduction

On August 16-18 2007, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government will meet at their annual summit in Lusaka, Zambia. The summit will provide SADC member states with an opportunity to take action on one of the most critical situations in the region: the political and human rights crisis in Zimbabwe. Their response will be scrutinized carefully in the region and beyond. The credibility of SADC's commitment to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law is on the line.

In response to the brutal police beating of over 50 opposition members and civil society activists on March 11, 2007 in Zimbabwe, SADC leaders convened an extraordinary summit on March 28 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to address the political crisis in Zimbabwe. In the communiqué following the summit, SADC mandated South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate talks between the opposition and the ruling party, and report back to the SADC troika on progress. The summit also mandated SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao to undertake a study of the economic situation in Zimbabwe and to propose measures on how SADC could assist Zimbabwe recover economically.

The summit also called for enhanced diplomatic contacts with Zimbabwe to assist with the resolution of the situation in Zimbabwe; appealed to Britain to honor its compensation obligations with regards to land reform; and called for the lifting of all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe. Regrettably, the communiqué made no mention of the arrests and beatings of opposition and civil society leaders or the broader human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Although little has been said publicly about the progress of the mediation talks, President Mbeki's delegation has met with the two Secretaries General of the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and initiated one meeting between representatives of the government and the MDC. SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao visited Zimbabwe in April and July to assess the economic situation in the country.

Human Rights Watch welcomed SADC's decision to seek to bring an end to the crisis in the country. The world now looks to SADC to curb the abuses taking place in Zimbabwe, and ensure stability and security in the region. The political and economic reforms suggested by the SADC Heads of State and Government can only be sustainable if they are accompanied by respect for the basic human rights of all Zimbabweans.

Human Rights Watch has been closely monitoring the human rights situation in Zimbabwe for the past seven years. State-sponsored harassment, attacks, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and torture of opposition members, civil society activists, and independent media workers continue unabated. For example, on July 25, police arrested and assaulted in custody more than 200 activists from the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) when they attempted to demonstrate against the Constitutional Amendment Bill in Harare. Many of the activists reportedly sustained serious injuries including fractured limbs and extensive soft tissue injuries.

On July 3, 2007, more than 15 students were injured when police used unnecessary force to disrupt peaceful protests against university "top-up fees" by thousands of students at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. Four days later, police forcibly disrupted another meeting at the university and arrested seven students. Several students were seriously injured and one sustained a broken leg after police beat students with batons. On June 6, 2007, up to 20 members of the organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arbitrarily arrested and detained after engaging in peaceful protests in Bulawayo. Riot police reportedly beat the women as they tried to disperse and two of the detained women were reportedly beaten in custody.

The continuing use of arbitrary and excessive use of force by the police and other agents of the government of Zimbabwe calls into question its commitment to ending the political crisis in the country, and creates a huge obstacle to finding a viable solution to this crisis. The regional consequences of violence and intimidation, and the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, have become increasingly clear—with millions of Zimbabweans fleeing the country to neighboring states. The SADC mediation talks must incorporate human rights concerns and set clear benchmarks for progress. This memorandum provides a brief summary of human rights concerns in Zimbabwe and proposes a number of actions to help tackle the crisis.

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