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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Need to bridge the gap between rhetoric and practice
    Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
    January 24, 2013


    2013 has begun with stark contradictions which highlight the need for a synchronization of national processes and a creation of bridges between what politicians say in their lofty offices and what their operatives do on the ground. Highlights for the month of January include the signing of the political code of conduct to end politically motivated violence and the apparent agreement on the draft constitution. In sharp contrast, the low-light has been the current clampdown on the Zimbabwe Association of Human Rights (ZimRights) and its implication on the NGOs operating environment in 2013.


    Constitution: Political party representatives have been busy thrashing out outstanding issues in the draft constitution. On Thursday the 17th of January, the principals agreed on the draft Constitution and the proclamation of dates for the referendum and elections. According to latest reports available to us, all things being equal, the draft constitution might be ready during the last week of January, and more importantly, the draft will likely limit the presidential tenure to two terms in office and allow Zimbabweans to have dual citizenship.

    AU Summit: Zimbabwe Civil Society is currently represented at the on-going AU Summit by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Crisis Coalition, and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The representatives will be insisting on the full compliance with the Global Political Agreement as a pre-requisite to for a free, fair and credible election. They will speak to issues pertaining to the on-going violence, harassment of NGOs and the abuse of civil liberties.

    Human rights environment:

    Calls for peace: Civil society organisations have welcomed the signing of the political code of conduct on political violence by the country's major political parties. According to the Press statement by the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a leading organisation that monitors breaches of peace at community level as a contribution towards sustainable peace, the agreement will see political party leaders being held accountable for their supporters' violent conduct.

    The ZPP believes this is a move in the right direction towards ending the culture of violence and impunity. However 'It the ZPP's strong view that the realization of the fundamental human rights and freedoms, very much depends on the willingness of those in power to enforce implementation. Unless there is change in the political and democratic culture in Zimbabwe the culture of violence and impunity will prevail for a very long time to come'.

    We agree with the ZPP position and it is our view that while the agreement is a good starting point, this should be accompanied by the demolition of structures of violence both at community and national levels. The state security structures should unequivocally dissociate themselves from political parties and discharge their obligations without favor fear or prejudice. The political parties should also dissociate themselves from terror groups and there should be a clear commitment to investigate and prosecute those who run these terror groups wherever they exist. As the situation currently stands, political party principals may sanitize themselves by calling for peace while outsourcing the commission of violence to terror groups or acquiescing with the conduct of these groups when they do not take stern measures to investigate and prosecute.

    NGOs clampdown: In the on-going ZimRights case, Police on Wednesday 23 January formally laid charges against ZimRights, following allegations of fraud that led to the arrest of the group's director Okay Machisa and his deputy.

    On 23 January, the bail hearing for Mr Okay Machisa was postponed to the 24th of January 2013 on the ground that the judge did not have the record of the case with her and in general the state was not prepared for the case. Mr Leo Chamahwinya was similarly remanded in custody until the 4th of February 2013 as the state says it still needs to carry further investigations (Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum).

    On 24 January 2013, the bail hearing for Mr Okay Machisa was again postponed to the 25th of January as the record is not yet ready (ibid).

    On 18 January 2013, more than 50 civil society organisations had signed a joint statement of solidarity condemning 'the unashamed intimidatory and repressive tactics being employed by the state against civil society organizations and leaders in Zimbabwe' (Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition).

    On 15 January, similar concerns were raised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights who condemned the recent attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Zimbabwe by stating that 'We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe's rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions, ahead of the elections which are expected to take place later this year' (OHCHR Press Release).

    In our view, the parallel charges against ZimRights as an organisation, amount to throwing a spanner in the works and are calculated to disable the organisation's operations at such a critical juncture of the Zimbabwe democratization project. For the past twenty years, ZimRights has played a very significant role of grassroots sensitization and awareness raising towards empowering citizens who are able to demand their human rights.

    In light of this, the Zimbabwe civil society organisations are calling upon the SADC region and the international community to continue supporting the people of Zimbabwe in their quest for justice, freedom and democratization.

    Visit the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum fact sheet

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