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
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
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 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
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!