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Treatment of human rights defenders: A key benchmark to the credibility
of forthcoming referendum and elections
Rights NGO Forum
environment for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe has remained
heavily constricted. Human rights defenders are still viewed as
enemies of the state working towards effecting illegal regime change
in the country. This has resulted in continued attacks and persecution
of the human rights defenders (ZHRF, Crisis,
There is also a growing international concern about the latest wave
of 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 (UN OHCHR, EU). On 23
February 2012, Zimbabwe was cited as being amongst a number of countries
that have witnessed an increase in attacks on human rights defenders
(HRDs) in their homes or offices and intimidation of HRDs by the
judicial authorities (Frontline Defenders). The situation has since
deteriorated since this citation, with Zimbabwe being in the spotlight
again during the EU-Human rights NGOs forum on 7 December 2012.
opinions on the motives behind the latest crackdown are varied.
However one of the leading arguments is that with the European Union
due to revisit the restrictive measures on Zimbabwe on 18 February
2013, ZANU PF is generally reluctant to see these measures go as
this might potentially pave way for international observers to monitor
Zimbabwe's forthcoming elections. According to this analysis,
the crackdown on civil society is yet another tantrum and attempts
to throw a spanner in the works of Zimbabwe's democratisation
clampdown is definitely a well calculated move to disenfranchise
human rights coalitions so as to disable them from carrying out
their necessary work of voter mobilisation. The government actions
are a battle sound and a warning to both organised and general civil
society that the elections will be carried according to their own
terms and dictates, with fear being the soundtrack during periods
prior, during and after the elections.
This report is an attempt to capture some of the major incidents
relating to HRDs in the past one and a half years. It sheds light
on patterns and trends and the evidence it generates can help inform
appropriate interventions. It is a generally shared view that the
work of human rights defenders in mobilising and empowering citizens
to exercise their democratic right to vote in the forthcoming constitutional
referendum and subsequent elections is crucial for the credibility
of both processes. For instance, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
(ZLHR), in their statement on the draft constitution are calling
for an open, vibrant and comprehensive sensitisation process, free
from violence, and in which all views are respected and tolerated.
to ZLHR, 'this is in line with [our] unwavering belief
in freedom of association, freedom of expression and access to diverse
information that allows Zimbabweans to make informed choices . .
. without negative repercussions (ZLHR, 11.02.2013). The extent
to which the government allows human rights defenders to carry out
their lawful work is therefore a key benchmark to the credibility
of the forthcoming processes and should be taken into account in
the international community's relations with Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Executive Director Mr. Abel Chikomo
charged for "managing and controlling the operations of
an illegal Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO)", under Section
6 (3) as read with subsection 1 of the PVO
Act . The case followed the summoning of Mr. Abel Chikomo
by Bulawayo Law and Order police regarding the Forum's public
campaign against torture on November 11, 2010, after it was alleged
that billboards put up by the Forum and calling on the Government
of Zimbabwe to ratify the Convention Against Torture and to outlaw
torture were offensive. Prior to that, on 9 February 9, 2011, two
researchers from the Forum's Transitional Justice Unit had
been detained and questioned for carrying out a national transitional
Three staff of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum's member
organisation, the Media
Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, (MMPZ) was arrested
in Gwanda. The three were charged under the Public
Order and Security Act in connection with a community meeting
on public information rights. The release of the three was granted
on 16.12.11 and they were remanded out of custody until 15.01.12.
In a case perceived to be politically motivated, WOZA
leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu appeared
in court on charges of kidnapping and theft. As on 11 February
2013, the case is still pending.
Joel Hita, a senior official with the Zimbabwe
Human Rights Association (ZimRights) was charged with organising
exhibition in Masvingo showing the violence
of the 2008 election period but was acquitted
Nine members of Women
of Zimbabwe Arise, including WOZA leader Jenni Williams and
five by-standers, were arrested
and mistreated in custody in Bulawayo as they were meeting JOMIC
to report concerns of violations of rights by the Zimbabwe Republic
Police. JOMIC is a body constituted under Zimbabwe's political
agreement to monitor violations of the agreement, among others tasks.
Human rights activist Paul Chizuze of the Solidarity
Peace Trust (SPT) disappeared and has not been seen since 8.2.12.
Following the purported banning
of NGO's in Masvingo, some NGOs are being forced to pay exorbitant
fees by local authorities before they are allowed to carry out their
29 residents of Glenview accused
of murdering police officer Petros Mutedza were indicted and
the trial was to begin in the High Court on 12.3.12 in a case believed
to be politically motivated.
a youth organisation reported on the suppression of an attempted
demonstration against the banning of 29 NGO's in the Province. COTRAD
offices are raided and materials impounded by 'unidentified
The conviction of Munyaradzi Gwisai and the five others for watching
a video on the Arab Spring is described as harsh and could be
perceived, by a reasonable person, as delivering a political message
Police in Bulawayo stopped a BPRA leadership training workshop and
confiscated materials (Bulawayo
Progressive Residents Association (BPRA).
Five employees of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
were briefly arrested
and detained during the week in Karoi as they attempted to hold
legal clinics (ZimRights)
Forty-four members of Zimbabwe's LGBT organization - GALZ
- were arrested
by riot police squad and released without being charged. The riot
squad and police officers were reported to have assaulted most of
the members using baton sticks, open hands and clenched fists before
detaining them without charge.
observes that lawyers in Zimbabwe have been threatened and harassed
in the course of performing their duties. In a petition, they note
that, in recent months, the operating environment for members of
the legal profession, particularly for human rights lawyers, has
shrunk to the extent that it has become almost impossible for them
to perform their professional duties and functions as Officers of
police crackdown against NGO's was reinstated as riot police
Services Unit in Harare. Five staff members; Fidelis Mudimu,
Zachariah Godi, James Zidzimu, Tafadzwa Gesa and Penn Bruno were
reportedly arrested and taken into custody at Harare Central Police
Station. According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the police
said they were searching for material that 'defaces any house,
building, wall, fence, lamp post, gate, elevator without the consent
of the owner or occupier' and in contravention of section
46 of the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
nine members and two babies were arrested
and detained at Bulawayo Central police station for staging
a peaceful protest about the water situation in the city.
was expressed at the on-going harassment of human rights activists
following the arrest
in Gweru of 29 community educators with the Zimbabwe
Election Support Network (ZESN). Police released 27 of the group
but opened a docket charging two ZESN representatives with allegedly
organising and failing to notify the police of an unlawful gathering
in contravention of Section 24 of the Public Order and Security
reports indicate that two leaders of the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trades Union were briefly arrested in Bulawayo as
they attempted to march in the city centre to commemorate International
Human Rights Day.
the on-going crackdown against NGO's, a News Alert reports
that 5 police officers conducted a raid
on the Harare Head Offices of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association
(ZimRights). Deputy National Programmes Co-ordinator was reportedly
arrested on charges of conducting illegal voter registration. ZimRights
Education Programmes Manager, Leo Chamahwinya, and ZimRights Local
Chapter Chairperson, Dorcas Shereni, were arrested
and were both denied bail by the High Court and remain in detention.
Police arrested and charged Okay
Machisa, the Director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
and chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, for allegedly
publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, fraud and
forgery after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration.
In Lupane, Matabeleland North Province, police arrested
Youth Development Trust (NYDT) members and charged them with
contravening Section 40 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform)
Act (Chapter 9:23) for allegedly possessing voter registration receipts.
summon Dumisani Nkomo, the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk
Trust to Plumtree Police Station to answer to charges of inciting
hatred at a meeting allegedly held last week in Plumtree.
Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment gazetted
regulations dated 18th January, to be effective immediately,
in terms of section 26 of the Zimbabwe
Youth Council Act. Among other requirements, the regulations
state that that no youth association may operate without being registered
in terms of the procedure detailed in the regulations; that registered
associations must submit annual reports and accounts, and annual
work plans and budgets to the Council; that every registered association
must pay an annual levy to the Council by the 15th February each
year. The regulations are allegedly ultra-vires the governing Act.
clothed police officers raided
offices of the Zimbabwe
Peace Project (ZPP) in Hillside armed with a search warrant
and quickly started ransacking the offices and in the process confiscating
ZPP files and equipment.
Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) Offices
in Masvingo where another youth organisation, COTRAD
is housed. Police are said to have demanded registration papers
from COTRAD and also wanted to know if they are registered with
The Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC). Police are said to have force
marched two employees, Benias Tirivavi of NANGO and Zivanai Muzorodzi
of COTRAD, to Masvingo police station where they were further interrogated
and detained for more than two hours.
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