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Human Rights Day message
National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations in Zimbabwe (NANGO)
December 09, 2008

December 2008 marks two milestones in the history of the development of a universal system of international protection of human rights: On the 9th of December the 10th Anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, and on the 10th of December the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

In Zimbabwe there is very little reason to celebrate these milestones. Human rights conditions in Zimbabwe are precariously on the decline - endangering the lives of millions. A climate of fear persists in the country!

The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe takes and threatens lives - It symbolises the wholesale abrogation of social and economic rights. Many Zimbabweans have due to years of failed policy and a delapidated social service delivery system become estranged to their rights. A worsening Cholera epidemic has already accounted for over 500 victims, in circumstances that are both unnecessary and preventable. Concurrently, according to the World Food Programme around 4 million Zimbabweans depend on humanitarian food aid - with the number expected to increase to over 5 million by January 2009. A rapidly collapsing infrastructure - especially of the water and sewage system - further threatens the life of Zimbabweans.

60 years after the birth of the UDHR, in which the right to life is prominently enshrined in Article 3, life is not guaranteed in Zimbabwe anymore! Conversely the life expectancy for Zimbabwean men and women plummets by the year.

Human rights violations are continuously grave and flagrant. The right to security - also set out in Article 3 UDHR - is also regularly infringed. In 2008 Zimbabweans various areas were visited by a wave of post election politically motivated violence in a context marked by very weak human rights protection mechanisms and political volatility. This violence resulted in the disruption of people's social and economic lives through internal displacements, burning of homesteads and unresolved local conflicts. Many national election observers were intimidated, harassed and violently targeted when solely trying to ensure that either a transparent election process was followed or that political violence was thoroughly recorded. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) e.g. the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) - spearheading election monitoring and observation - were raided, documents seized, staff members interrogated, arbitrarily arrested and/or detained.

As 2008 comes to a close - the blatant disregard of e.g. the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders - through intimidation, harassment and violent targeting of Civil Society Activists continues unabated: Civil Society Activists have become a core target of the pattern of state-orchestrated and ordained harassment and intimidation of Civil Society Activists and other dissenting voices. From the 3rd to the 8th of December thirty three Social Activists were unlawfully detained at Gweru Central Police Station with no charges preferred against them. The thirty three were consistently denied access to counsel, medication and family.

A climate of fear thus gripped Civil Society. The abduction of prominent Human Rights Defender and Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) Jestina Mukoko by gunmen at her home is yet another incident of the violence and intimidation of Civil Society gone too far. Since then Jestina Mukoko's whereabouts are unclear. Civil Society fears for her life! Whilst the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has commendably been forthcoming in instituting investigations into the matter - a whole lot more needs to be done to protect Activists from victimisation.

Only 5 days after the abduction and disappearance of Jestina Mukoko two of her co-workers from the ZPP - Brodrick Takawira (Provincial Coordinator) and Pascal Gonzo (Driver) were abducted from the ZPP offices in Harare. Civil Society also fears for their lives!

NANGO calls upon all responsible authorities to urgently establish the whereabouts of Jestina Mukoko and her ZPP colleagues, to secure her safe release and bring the abductors to justice. The Zimbabwean government has the obligation to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens.

Whilst the nation grapples with the worst ever humanitarian crisis in post independence history the government has agravated the crisis by further curtailing the operating space for humanitarian organisations. In June 2008 the Zimbabwean government suspended field operations of NGOs on the spurious and never proven allegations that humanitarian agencies were politicising food aid at the behest of the opposition and in sympathy with the regime change agenda. On the contrary Zimbabwe's humanitarian sector has on many occassions proven its undoubted commitment to keeping with international humanitarian standards and norms. By suspending "field operations" the government meant banning the mobilisation of large numbers of people!

The suspension of NGO field operations unfortunately came at a time when millions of Zimbabweans were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance ranging from food aid, livelihood support, water and sanitation, psycho-social support, medical attentions, information and many other services provided by NGOs. Amongst them included children, People living with HIV/Aids, the elderly, pregnant mothers, the disabled and the thousands of Zimbabweans who were internally displaced due to the political violence campaign.

On 12 June 2008 Mr. Mhishi, Acting Permanent Secretary for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, wrote a circular clarifying that the ban on field operations would not affect those organisations working in the area of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), Home Based Care (HBC) or supplementary feeding programs for Children from continuing their work as long their activities did not entail community mobilization. However Organisations working in these areas continue to face a number of bureaucratic, operational and security restrictions to their operations.

Faced with a spiralling humanitarian crisis the government ended the suspension of NGOs as part of the commitments in the Inter-Party Agreement. However this half-hearted reversal of the ban only goes as far as facilitating the operations of welfarist or developmental organisations. Those NGOs working in the good governance, civil education and human rights arena and registered as PVOs are still officially prohibited from their field work. NGOs are thereby continuously prohibited from engaging with their constituency - the people of Zimbabwe. Thereby the realisation of an informed and empowered citizen participation in policy and development processes which is pivotal for democracy to prevail is effectively curtailed. By hindering citizen participation, Zimbabweans are being limited in participating in efforts to protect and promote their rights and those of their fellow citizens.

At the center of the state's anti-human rights enterprise are a number of repressive pieces of legislation: Repressive legislation has become the state's major weapon to curtail the basic human rights of Zimbabweans. The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) constricts the exercise of the right to associate and assemble thereby restraining the freedom of expression, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) curtail the freedom of information thereby opening the door for misinformation and propaganda. Civil Society has therefore consistently called for the repeal of repressive laws.

NANGO stresses the importance of the right to information for the population. To empower citizens to participate in democratic processes it is essential that they can access information freely. To ensure that citizens can receive and access information they want, a free media is essential. But currently journalists are intimidated, harassed, violently targeted and prevented from reporting freely. A curtailed media leads to public misinformation and propaganda - which also threatens NGO operations: Political leaders continuously express mistrust in the NGO sector - during the last year hate language was often used to denigrate the essential work of NGOs and Civil Society Activists - especially of those working in the human rights and governance sector. This negative propaganda is one of the reasons why state-agents and militias do not respect due process when dealing with Civil Society Activists and seemingly have no bad conscience when violently targeting Civil Society Activists.

The UNDHR starts out with the words: "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Human dignity is inherent to every human being. Human rights are rights which every human being enjoys by virtue of being human - without any supplementary condition being required. But in Zimbabwe Civil Society Activists have to fear constantly for their and their families' well-being when documenting or speaking up against human rights violations in the country. Their "right to life" is persistently in danger.

In the pursuit of a culture of human rights Civil Society has a crucial role. But due to the intimidation, harassment and violent targeting of Civil Society Activists in Zimbabwe, it is nowhere easy for Civil Society to assume its crucial watchdog function. Speaking out against human rights violations has effectively been criminalised. Such criticism is seen by the establishment not as constructive and rightful but as a threat to the stability of this country and therefore unpatriotic. Civil Society Activists in Zimbabwe are extremely courageous since they suffer extensively from violence inflicted upon them: The same date of Jestina Mukoko's disappearance ZCTU had called for peaceful action in form of protests against cash-withdrawal limits in front of banks culminating in Harare in a march to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) where ZCTU handed over a petition to the RBZ Governor. Broad Civil Society - e.g. the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) - expressed their solidarity with the ZCTU initiative and called upon its membership to join the peaceful action. In Gweru, Civil Society Activists - from ZCTU and NGOs e.g. NANGO and the Gweru Agenda - were arrested and detained. Policemen responsible for their arrest referred to their offence as being that of "participating in an illegal demonstration." The Activists were thus ulwafully detained in deplorable conditions and thus rendered vulnerable to the debilitating conditions in inhumane holding cells.

Hundreds of other prisoners of conscience remain incarcerated in various centers around Zimbabwe. These prisoners are the victims of the State's implementation of a host of repressive pieces of legislation that threaten not only democracy but the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe.

NANGO expresses its gratitude and admiration to Human Rights Defenders who are brave and courageous to stand up, speak out and take action to ensure that the dignity of Zimbabweans is restored. NANGO condemns the continued criminalisation of the exercise of basic rights and fundamental freedoms. Zimbabweans must not be punished for exposing abuses or speaking up against the deteriorating humanitarian, economic and social situation.

On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights NANGO the human rights situation in Zimbabwe is worrisome. Human Rights abuses are grave and flagrant. NANGO therefore continues to support the human rights sector in its pursuance of democracy, rule of law and human rights. NANGO also demands the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience and the repeal of the repressive pieces of legislation under whose guise the abuse of Civil Society is being perpetrated!

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