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intimidation mar constitutional outreach
Rights Watch (HRW)
September 27, 2010
Increasing violence in Zimbabwe during community
meetings leading up to a constitutional referendum and new arrests
of civil society activists highlight the lack of progress in ending
human rights abuses and implementing urgently needed human rights
reforms, Human Rights Watch said today.
The national unity government began a series of
community outreach meetings in June called the Constitutional Outreach
Program to elicit popular views on a new constitution. The meetings
have been marked by increasing violence and intimidation, mainly
by supporters of Zimbabwe's African National Union - Patriotic Front
(ZANU-PF) and war veterans allied to ZANU-PF, the former sole ruling
party. In the past few days, the violence has worsened, as the outreach
meetings have moved to the capital, Harare, and the city of Bulawayo.
Because of the violence, 13 meetings in Harare were suspended.
supporters and their allies continue to commit abuses with impunity,
and the police remain partisan," said Rona Peligal, Africa
director at Human Rights Watch. "The government of Zimbabwe
needs to put a halt to the attacks and allow the constitutional
outreach to proceed without violence."
Political Agreement brought ZANU-PF and the former opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) together two years ago into
a unity government. The agreement calls for putting a draft constitution
to a referendum. If the constitution is accepted, new elections
would bring this interim government to an end. A Constitutional
Select Committee was set up to oversee the process, and up to 70
outreach teams have been dispatched around the country to conduct
the outreach program.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to take immediate steps
to end abuses and create the necessary constitutional and electoral
framework to ensure free, fair, and credible elections, as envisaged
in the Global Political Agreement. The government should also repeal
or amend all repressive legislation such as the
Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which severely limits rights
to demonstrate. The police have loosely interpreted certain provisions
of the POSA and other laws to justify arbitrary arrests of civil
society activists. The government should also respect and uphold
the recent human rights additions to the current constitution, particularly
those obliging state officials to respect and uphold the rule of
law and guaranteeing free and unfettered political participation.
Human Rights Watch has received reports of violence in Harare, Bulawayo,
Masvingo, Mashonaland West, and Mashonaland East during the outreach
process. The attacks were reportedly perpetrated by ZANU-PF officials
and supporters against villagers, perceived supporters of the MDC,
and civil society activists who are monitoring the process.
On September 18 in Greystone Park, Harare, a group of war veterans,
and ZANU-PF youths reportedly barred white residents from participating
in the outreach program, contending that the white residents were
not Zimbabweans. One resident in the area was assaulted when he
tried to intervene on behalf of the white residents.
The following day in Mbare, Harare, ZANU-PF supporters attacked
MDC supporters and prevented them from attending an outreach meeting,
which ended when the violence broke out. ZANU-PF supporters and
uniformed police assaulted 11 residents and MDC supporters from
Mbare with blunt objects as they left the meeting. One resident,
Chrispen Mandizvidza, died from his injuries on September 22. Medical
reports indicated that he died as a result of complications from
a ruptured bowel, which he sustained after being hit in the abdomen
with blunt weapons.
Watch received similar reports of violence and intimidation by ZANU-PF
supporters and war veterans in the Harare suburbs of Budiriro, Chisipite,
Glen View, and Glen Norah.
In an unrelated incident, 83 men and women from the group Women
of Zimbabwe Arise were arrested in Harare on September 20 as they
demonstrated against the lack of professionalism by the Zimbabwe
police. The group was detained at the Harare Central Police Station
for two days. On September 22, they were taken to appear at the
Harare Magistrates Court to answer charges of criminal nuisance
under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and were later
released on bail.
The perpetrators of this violence should be brought to justice,
Human Rights Watch said, and the activists who were detained after
they reported ZANU-PF attacks should have the charges against them
violence and intimidation do not bode well for the referendum and
elections that could be held next year," Peligal said. "Without
rights reforms and accountability for continuing abuses, the kind
of violence that plagued the 2008 elections is likely to happen
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