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Petition on International Human Rights Day march
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

December 08, 2011

Petition: Respect, Promote and Protect Human Rights Defenders and Stabilise the Operating Environment Before Any Future Election

We, the Members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), being deeply committed to fostering a culture of human rights and respect for the Just Rule of Law and the proper conduct of democratic, free and fair elections in Zimbabwe and throughout the African continent, remain greatly concerned by the disrespect of human rights by state and non-state actors which continues to undermine the fundamental rights and freedoms of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Zimbabwe, more particularly during electoral periods.

With the inevitable progress towards elections, ZLHR remains greatly apprehensive of the constricted operating environment for HRDs tainted by executive excesses, impunity for continued human rights violations, erosion of the Rule of Law and failure to promote, protect and fulfil human rights obligations voluntarily assented to by the Government. The continued denial by state agents of the critical positive role of HRDs in the country and the refusal to respect, support, protect and enable them to carry out their legitimate activities is tragic, moreso given the vital role played by HRDs in the promotion and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms - be they socio-economic, cultural or political - particularly during electoral periods.

The role of HRDs is recognised by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in Resolution A/RES/53/144 of 1998, commonly referred to as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. As a member of the UN, Zimbabwe is bound by this Declaration, yet continues to exhibit lack of political will to abide by this important Resolution.

In the last few years and more particularly since the 2008 elections, HRDs remain endangered when conducting their legitimate activities in the country, with their security and safety becoming more precarious before, during and after elections.

Some of the challenges that have been faced by HRDs include:

  • Curtailed security of the person and protection of the law for HRDs through arbitrary arrests and detention and continued selective application of the law.
  • Abductions and enforced disappearances of HRDs.
  • Cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of detention for detainees and HRDs. In particular, women are denied special detention facilities despite their biological needs.
  • Denial of pre-trial rights due to administrative actions and other practices of state and non-state actors, despite their constitutional guarantee.
  • Threats to the right to fair trial for HRDs due to the poor conditions of service of Public Prosecutors, which leads to lack of insulation from political and other manipulation.
  • Continued violation of freedoms of assembly, association, expression and movement.
  • Routine violation of privacy rights through unjustified searches of HRDs' premises and seizure of property.
  • Hate speech and other forms of abuse through the publicly owned but state-controlled print and electronic media, compromising safety of HRDs.
  • Threats to security of the person for HRDs due to acts of political violence and intolerance.
  • Continued instability due to the culture of impunity and non-prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations.

Of particular concern is the refusal by the Inclusive Government to embrace key recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review of Zimbabwe by the UN Human Rights Council aimed at taking measures to prevent enforced disappearances, ensure accountability for past human rights violations during the 2008 elections and to criminalise torture.

Cognisant of the urgent need, therefore, to take measures to ensure the protection of HRDs and facilitate their legitimate activities which promote and advance implementation and fulfilment of human rights obligations by state and non-state actors, we the Members of ZLHR call upon the following stakeholders to speedily address the plight of HRDs by taking the following measures:

The Executive

  • Uphold the Rule of Law and promote and protect human rights by taking urgent measures to ratify, domesticate and implement the African Charter on Democracy, Governance and Elections.
  • Improve the situation of HRDs in Zimbabwe by observing, respecting and implementing the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by facilitating review of policies and other administrative practices which militate against a conducive environment for HRDs and human rights organisations in general.
  • Take urgent measures to ensure that the rights- including the conditions of service- of HRDs who are employed by the state such as Public Prosecutors are addressed to enable them to dispense their duties that affect the realisation of fundamental freedoms and rights effectively.
  • Urgently carry out institutional reforms of key state institutions involved in justice delivery.
  • Take urgent measures to implement recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council during Zimbabwe's Universal Periodic Review that affect on the operating environment of HRDs.

The Legislature

Take immediate steps to deal proactively in addressing laws that negatively impact on the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by:

  • Expeditiously amending or repealing laws that impact on the right to freedom of assembly, association, expression, access to information, and movement of HRDs.
  • Ensuring the Senate Thematic Committee on Human Rights works closely with the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to review these laws and progress on implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations.
  • Ensure that, through its oversight role, there is more accountability by state actors who continue to violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of HRDs.

The Judiciary

  • Ensure that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done, by exhibiting independence and acting without fear or favour when adjudicating over matters concerning HRDs.
  • Speedily determine cases affecting HRDs that are pending before the courts to ensure there is no targeting or victimisation; provide timely judgements; and provide timely written reasons, where necessary, to formulate appeals.

The Attorney General

  • Prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations in a timely and non-partisan manner.
  • Encourage - rather than stifle - prosecutorial discretion of Law Officers to ensure that cases are pursued only where evidence exists to professionally prosecute cases
  • Cease the use of "criminal abuse of public office" charges against Law Officers and Prosecutors.
  • Refrain from affect the fundamental right to liberty of HRDs through arbitrary and unjustifiable invocation of the constitutionally disputed section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
  • Ensure that criminal prosecutions that are pursued against HRDs are justified and not maliciously intended to frustrate and impede them from carrying out their legitimate activities.

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