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Legal Monitor - Issue 41
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

April 19, 2010

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What independence?

Uncertainty over the country's future shadowed this year's 30th independence anniversary with many a people yet to enjoy the freedoms which were fought for.

The 15 month-old shaky coalition government has failed to stop continuing rights abuses, resurgent clampdown on civil society work and a dire humanitarian situation that has left Zimbabweans more worried about their future than before. Just last week, members of the Woman of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested for simply expressing their displeasure with how the power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Authority (Zesa) has been giving citizens a raw deal.

Four Woza leaders Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa and Celina Madukani will remain in custody until Tuesday 20 April when they will be taken to court.

"The continued detention of the women is once again a clear indication that harassment of human rights defenders continues unchecked under the government of national unity and makes a mockery of the Independence celebrations that no doubt will be taking place across Zimbabwe this weekend. There is very little to celebrate in the cold, dark, filthy cells of Harare Central Police Station," said Woza in a statement on Friday.

London based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said it was concerned about the failure of the coalition government to end the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders.

"This year's Independence Day should be a time of reflection for the people of Zimbabwe, especially those who are in power. Many Zimbabweans are not enjoying the freedom and dignity that should have come with independence."

"One of the expectations of independence from colonial rule was that human rights will be enjoyed by all. It was expected that mob rule would not be tolerated and yet we see those implicated in torture, political killings, and many awful forms of inhuman and degrading treatment enjoying total impunity," said Simeon Mawanza, the Amnesty International's Africa researcher, to The Legal Monitor. An Amnesty International delegation was in the country last month when Okay Machisa, the director of the ZimRights was briefly detained by police at Harare Central police station. Police confiscated photographs which were part of an exhibition on the 2008 human rights violations which Machisa was coordinating. It was only after the intervention of ZLHR lawyers who applied for and got a High Court order that the photographs were released by the police. In an almost similar case, Bulawayo-based artist, Owen Maseko, was arrested and detained after he organised an art exhibition on the Gukurahundi atrocities that took place in the 1980s.

It seems the government continues to follow the paths of the colonial regime led by Ian Smith which used to suppress citizens, according to rights groups.

In February, the secretary general of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), Getrude Hambira was forced to flee the country after publishing a report on ongoing violence on farms.

The perpetrators of the post March 2008 are yet to face the wrath of law.

It seems it is not only on the political front that many Zimbabweans would not celebrate this year's 30th anniversary from Great Britain colonial rule. Last week, the United Nations announced that the country's humanitarian crisis would continue because of yet another poor yield from the 2009/2010 agricultural season and donor fatigue.

UN humanitarian coordinator in Zimbabwe Elizabeth Lwanga appealed to the international world to assist the troubled country. She said last year's appeal for $722 million for humanitarian aid, most of which was for food assistance, had received "relatively successful response". "Unfortunately, in 2010 we have so far been confronted with serious cuts in funding. As of today, the CAP (Consolidated Appeal Process) is funded at 26 percent, an all-time low in the history of CAP in Zimbabwe," she said, adding; "It is clear that humanitarian assistance is still urgently required."

For many Zimbabweans, starvation has become part of their lives over the past decade as the economy collapsed after President Robert Mugabe sanctioned land grabbing from white commercial farmers. Thus, for many, the anniversary will be just another day.

Last year, Mugabe formed a powersharing government with his foe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, after a disputed election. The fragile coalition has stabilised the economy but has failed to attract foreign funding to support economic recovery due to power-sharing disputes between the two leaders, with Mugabe being accused of resisting full implementation of the global political agreement that gave birth to the unity administration.

A joint government and United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) crop assessment report released last month urged Harare to start emergency food relief programmes to areas that have been affected by drought, while 500 000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize should be set aside annually to mitigate any food deficits.

The joint report follows projections that up to 11 percent or 200 000 hectares of this year's maize crop in the southern African country was a total write-off.

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