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Zimbabwe: Continued clampdown on dissent - Submission to the UN universal period review 12th Session of the UPR Working Group
Amnesty International
August 13, 2011

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In this submission, prepared for the Universal Periodic Review of Zimbabwe in October 2011, Amnesty International documents systematic harassment by the government of human rights defenders. The organization is deeply concerned at the persistent failure to hold to account members of the security forces for human rights violations against human rights defenders and opponents of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, including unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment. Amnesty International is also concerned at mass forced evictions of hundreds of thousands of people under the government programme known as Operation Murambatsvina. Only a small number of those evicted have been re-housed in settlements that lack access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, and health and education services. Finally the organization raises concern that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is still not operational despite the constitutional provision for the Commission adopted in 2009.

Normative and Institutional Framework of the State

The Constitution in force in Zimbabwe is that of 1979 as amended in 2009. Chapter III of the Constitution provides for fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual placing some limitations on the enjoyment of these "not to prejudice the public interest or the rights and freedoms of other persons". The Constitution provides for a number of specific rights, including to life, personal liberty, protection from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, protection of the law, and freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement. The country is currently undergoing a constitutional review process which should lead to a new constitution before the end of 2011.

National Human Rights Commission

Section 100R of the Constitution provides for a national human rights institution, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, mandated to investigate any violation of the human rights enshrined in the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution. Its functions are also to promote awareness of and respect for human rights and to monitor and assess their observance. However, despite the 19th Amendment of the Constitution in 2009 the bill to operationalize the Commission was only gazetted on 10 June 2011 for debate in Parliament and by end of July it had not been passed into law. Amongst other shortcomings the bill seeks to limit the Commission to investigations of human rights violations that occurred after 13 February 2009 only.

Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on the Ground

Suppression of the Work of Human Rights Defenders

Since 2000, Amnesty International has documented systematic harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders by the government. Specifically, the rights to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly have been curtailed, including through the use of repressive legislation, mainly the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Using the POSA, police have unlawfully blocked meetings by perceived critics of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. Human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained for prolonged periods beyond the 48 hours prescribed by law. Others have been charged under the POSA or the Criminal Codification Reform Act for engaging in peaceful protest. While in police custody some of them report having been subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Human rights defenders are often held in overcrowded cells and denied access to lawyers and to food. Those injured as a result of police beatings during arrest and/or while in custody, are also denied access to medical care.

Amnesty International has documented numerous human rights violations by the Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police at Harare Central and Bulawayo Central police stations. The organization is concerned that the Law and Order Section operates in a partisan manner and that it is responsible for most of the violations against human rights defenders in custody.

Police have gone even beyond the provisions of the POSA to suppress the work of defenders. On 20 February 2007, police purporting to be acting under Section 27 of the POSA imposed a three-month ban on public demonstrations and rallies in certain areas of Harare. However, the ban was in violation of Section 27(1) of the POSA which restricts such bans to a period not exceeding one month.

Violations against human rights defenders in police custody often have specific gender manifestations and a gender specific impact on women defenders. Amnesty International has documented several cases of women defenders, including members of the activist organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), who were brutalized by police during arrest and/or while in police custody and subjected to humiliation and sexist verbal attacks. Pregnant women and mothers with babies have also been detained after engaging in peaceful protest.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the targeting by state security agents of human rights defenders involved in documentation of human rights violations and campaigning for accountability for past human rights violations:

  • The director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko, and two colleagues were abducted in early December 2008 together with Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party activists, and held in incommunicado detention for nearly three weeks. Mukoko was only released from custody on 2 March 2009. On 28 September 2009, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe granted her a permanent stay of criminal prosecution, ruling that the State, through its agents, had violated her Constitutional rights under Sections 13(1) [protection from unlawful deprivation of personal liberty], 15(1) [protection from torture, inhuman and degrading punishment] and 18(1) [protection of the law]. However, despite this positive ruling, no sanction has been brought against the state security agents responsible for these violations.
  • Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, was forced to temporarily leave the country in March 2010 after he was arrested for hosting an exhibition of photographs depicting the state-sponsored violations that engulfed Zimbabwe in the run up to the second round of the Presidential elections in June 2008.
  • In March 2010, Owen Maseko, a Bulawayo-based artist, was arrested, detained for four days and charged under the POSA for holding an exhibition depicting the atrocities committed by government forces in the 1980s in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands province where thousands of people were killed by security forces.

Amnesty International has also witnessed and documented incidents of unwarranted surveillance of the activities of human rights defenders by police and intelligence services. The presence of state security agents at meetings organized by human rights activists often intimidates participants and restricts freedom of expression.

Despite the creation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009, human rights violations against perceived opponents of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party persist. Although under the Global Political Agreement, which created the GNU, the Ministry of Home Affairs is co-chaired by ZANU-PF and the MDC-T, the police and other security organizations are effectively under the control of ZANU-PF and have continued to perform their duties in a partisan manner.

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