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ZimRights case: The importance of solidarity in strengthening protection
of Human Rights Defenders in Zimbabwe
Rights NGO Forum
The recent incarceration
of the Zimbabwe
Human Rights Association (ZimRights) Executive Director Mr Okay
Machisa highlights the threats which Human Rights Defenders (HRD's)
face in Zimbabwe as the country prepares for major political processes.
The incarceration shows a worrying trend for which Zimbabwe has
become notorious in previous years. On the other hand, the timely
response by both the local and international communities, underscores
the role played by solidarity in addressing the threats that HRDs
are all too often subjected to in Zimbabwe.
Mr Okay Machisa was freed
from Harare Remand Prison on Tuesday 29 January, where he had been
incarcerated since Monday 14 January 2013 when he was arrested by
the police. Mr Machisa was arrested on Monday 14 January 2013 and
charged with contravening Section 31, 136 and 137 of the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Founded in 1992 for the sole
purpose of ensuring that the Zimbabwean citizens are informed about
human rights and are empowered to defend their own rights, ZimRights
undertakes flagship advocacy projects both at grassroots and policy
levels. ZimRights has undertaken grassroots advocacy against torture
in most parts of Zimbabwe, where they captured hundreds of testimonies
of torture victims. As part of its community development mandate,
ZimRights has worked tirelessly to encourage dialogue in communities,
challenge the culture of impunity and for citizens' participation
at policy levels.
key result area of raising public awareness of individual rights
and enhancing the capacity of the civil society to advocate for/exercise
its rights through grassroots sensitisation campaigns and consultations
throughout different provinces of Zimbabwe is ever more crucial
at this stage, given the rising tide of voter apathy.
It is therefore
important that ZimRights's work aimed at empowering a citizenry
able to demand human rights protection, is protected, since studies
suggest that there is a close correlation between the respect of
fundamental rights and the outcome of an election. The exercise
of fundamental freedoms such as association & assembly, expression
and human dignity which ZimRights fight for are a pre-requisite
to a free, fair and credible election in Zimbabwe. A constant assault
on these freedoms would increase voter apathy due to fear.
It was pleasing
to note that the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner
on Human Rights issued a statement on 18 January 2013 condemning
the attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, including
arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment. In doing so they
expressed their concern 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
and in-keeping with their tradition, Zimbabwean based human rights
defenders strengthened their position through the strength of coalition
solidarity. The collective civil society voice and excellent of
work by a posse of dedicated lawyers proved that although justice
is often slow in Zimbabwe, solidarity is crucial in times of persecution
and can be an effective means of demanding state accountability.
So much is at
stake in Zimbabwe as the country prepares for the constitutional
referendum and election. The role of human rights defenders to ensure
that people register to vote, actually go to vote and protect their
vote is also increasingly becoming critical. Both local and international
stakeholders can and should play a crucial role in strengthening
this critical sector, mainly through:
- Timely and
proactive interventions by the United Nations including solidarity
statements by the OHCHR and timely response to concerns by the
office of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights
Defenders under the UN Declaration on HRDs of 1998.
- Timeous response
to concerns by African regional political and human rights mechanisms
such as the ACHPR and SADC.
support, timely public declarations and statements of concern
in respect of individual cases by the European External Action
Services (EEAS) and operational support for Zimbabwean HRDs by
the European Commission.
of support for the promotion of democracy and human rights by
the European Instrument for Democracy & Human Rights (EIDHR).
aimed at state authorities to free NGO's operating space
and legal advocacy.
Visit the Zimbabwe
Human Rights NGO Forum fact
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