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An overview of Zimbabwe's coverage on international multilateral fora
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
February 18, 2013

The last few weeks have seen elements of the Zimbabwe Republic Police engage in a clear pattern of harassment through arbitrary detentions, politically-motivated searches, and arrests on spurious charges against human rights defenders and organisations that are legitimately operating within the law. These accounts which are well documented and in public domain, do not warrant further reiteration. With the spectre of violence looming large in the run up to the elections, there is a rising concern that international multilateral stakeholders have placed Zimbabwe to their back burner, as they have more irons in their fire such as Mali. In an attempt to assuage such fears, this article critically examines various international fora where Zimbabwe is either under direct or indirect spotlight. The article concludes that megaphone diplomacy can be counterproductive when dealing with Zimbabwe given its leaders' expertise in rhetoric.

Zimbabwe continues to be one of Europe's top priorities despite not being explicitly in the Council of the European Union's priorities at the forthcoming United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 22nd Session. Further, the European Union has been deliberating on Zimbabwe and will today announce its decision on the Restrictive measures. Earlier in February, EU MEPs unanimously condemned the current government clampdown on civil society which clearly demonstrates that Zimbabwe, just like other countries of concern still remain on the heart of the EU foreign policy on third countries.

On 6 and 7 December 2012, The European External Action Service and the European Commission, together with the Human Rights and Democracy Network and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, organised to the 14th EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights where Zimbabwe sprang up. Although Zimbabwe was not explicitly mentioned as one of the countries that benefitted from the European instrument for Democracy and Human Rights 2011-2012, it surprisingly sprung up during the roundtable discussion on 'Shrinking space for civil society and restrictive NGO laws'. Zimbabwe's human rights defenders made specific interventions which implored international bodies to intervene. This annual forum, presented a clear opportunity for Zimbabwe HRDs as it underlined the importance of EU's comprehensive dialogue with civil society in line with the EU's role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries.

At the UN level, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), in accordance with the resolution 19/35, invited submissions from civil society in November 2012 towards the preparation of a report on "effective measures and best practices to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests" prior to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council. This issue which is very relevant to Zimbabwe presented yet another indirect opportunity for Zimbabwean HRDs to contribute towards this important topic in accordance with the principle of universality of human rights while indirectly highlighting their own country situation. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum contributed to this process by sharing its own experiences in Zimbabwe.

The resultant Report which is due to be presented at the forthcoming UNHRC 22nd Session concludes that peaceful protests are a fundamental aspect of a vibrant democracy. The promotion and protection of peaceful protests require not only an adequate legal framework but also continuous efforts for their effective implementation. Dialogue between protest organizers, administrative authorities and the police, as well as human rights training programmes for police forces, including on the use of force during protests, can contribute to the promotion and protection of the human rights linked to peaceful protests. In part the Report on page 11 reads, 'The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum supports legal reform efforts to transfer the power to ban demonstrations from the police to the courts, and to remove the obligation for demonstrators to carry identity cards.

During the forthcoming UNHRC 22nd Session, the Human Rights Council on 1 March will also be considering OHCHR study on common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective. This session comes in the wake of resolution 19/36 of 2012 in which the Council requested OHCHR, in consultation with States, national human rights institutions, civil society, relevant intergovernmental bodies and international organizations, to draft a study on common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective, as well as on lessons learned and best practices in the engagement of the State with the international community to support such processes, and to present the study to the Council at its twenty-second session. The Special Rapporteurs on torture and situation of HRDs will also be presenting on 4 March 2013. All these presentations will be relevant to Zimbabwe and to HRDs in particular.

The Council of the European Union has also concluded on the EU PRIORITIES at the forthcoming UNHRC 22nd Session between 25 February and 22 March 2013. Among its priorities, the Council, in paragraph 18 of its resolution states that, The EU underlines the need for UN human rights fora and bodies to address freedom of association and assembly, and to provide concrete support to human rights activists and civil society organizations. Legislative and other restrictions placed on NGO activities are a growing concern in many countries. The EU will also defend the role of civil society representatives and human rights defenders in the UN context and react against any threats to those who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.

Although Zimbabwe is not explicitly mentioned in this resolution, it goes without doubt that the EU has considered the situation in Zimbabwe especially given the MEP's recent unanimous condemnation of the clampdown of HRDs in Zimbabwe which followed the OHCHR's Press Statement on the same issue. It now remains to be seen how much regard the EU will place on the issue of HRD in its imminent decision on Zimbabwean restrictive measures due to be announced today.

In conclusion, Zimbabwe's current 'back burner' position in international fora is not necessarily a negative development but creates more and better opportunities to engage Zimbabwe and opportunities for civil society to raise their concerns in non-traditional ways. This is especially the case when dealing with countries under extreme dictatorships like Zimbabwe whose politicians relish at every opportunity offered by mega-phone diplomacy and uses such to advance their parochial doctrines.

Visit the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum fact sheet

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