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Uneven and unpredictable current human rights terrain
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
February 19, 2013


A concatenation of successive events in Zimbabwe over the past two weeks has rendered the human rights terrain tenuous, uneven and unpredictable. The repressive and anarchic conditions currently obtaining makes the risk of human rights defenders being attacked all too real and predictable, albeit, on the evidence currently available, the incidence of that persecution is likely to be both random and arbitrary. Despite the release on bail of some of the detained HRDs, attacks on civil society operations continue unabated. In this issue we document the outstanding incidents that occurred in the course of this week and conclude that, given the current violations, there hasn't been adequate progress in Zimbabwe to warrant a change of course by the European Union.

Human rights defenders

  • On 18 February ZimRights' Leo Chamahwinya was released on bail as well as Centre for Community Development Officers George Makoni and Gift Konjani who were arrested over the weekend (Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition).
  • As this was happening, on 18 February 2013, in the eastern border town of Mutare, Manicaland's provincial capital, a journalist working for privately-owned publication NewsDay, Obey Manayiti, was arrested while reporting the threat to the police. He is expected to appear in court Tuesday, 19 February 2013.
  • On 19 February 2013, Zimbabwe Republic Police raided the offices of Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) in Belgravia. ZESN is a leading civic organisation working on elections (Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights). According to Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition alert, the police warrant looks exactly the same as the one which was relied on during the raid of Zimbabwe Peace Project offices last week. The police stated that they are looking for subversive materials, gadgets and illegal immigrants.
  • Police, on Wednesday 14 February 2013, without just cause and in their increasingly regular arbitrary manner, arrested nine WOZA members who were part of the annual Valentine's Day "love" protest outside Parliament building in central Harare. On Thursday 14 February 2013, police in Bulawayo arrested 195 WOZA members at a demonstration commemorating Valentine's Day and assaulted them before releasing some of them.

Commenting on the above WOZA development, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is of the view that, 'The arrest, assault and detention of the WOZA members including blocking lawyers to consult their clients is a clear sign that the democratic and constitutional rights of Zimbabweans are still a remote reverie and that the coalition government has not changed the situation for the better as some would want us to believe. The right to organise and to assemble together with the aim of addressing issues of common concern is a human right and an important means by which citizens can influence their governments and leaders'.

Commenting on his Facebook page, the USA ambassador to Harare raised concern over these incidents:

" . . . As tough as it can be, governments and law enforcement must be held to higher standards, must respond promptly and fully to citizen complaints, and must uphold the law without political, racial, ethnic or gender bias.

"The U.S. is committed to a prosperous Zimbabwe which respects the rights of its peoples. As President Obama's representative here, I am deeply concerned about the pattern of harassment of civil society organizations and the use of violence against civilians by elements of the Zimbabwe Republic Police - such as occurred against protestors from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) yesterday in Bulawayo.

"All citizens - individually and in organizations -- have a responsibility to comply with the laws of their communities, and to honor the right to gather and protest by doing so in a peaceful and orderly manner. When citizens disagree with the laws of their communities, they should first work to change them through established means, not by engaging in illegal actions to impose their own way.

"Zimbabwe will be stronger when the full rights of citizens to gather and demonstrate peacefully are respected and protected, and when citizens are assured of and respect the responsibilities of a professional, non-partisan police force."

  • In a separate development, the Head of the Chiefs' Council Senator Fortune Charumbira reportedly sang from the Zanu-PF hymn book sounding an unconstitutional embargo against the free operation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Zimbabwe, on Friday, February 15, 2013. He said NGOs are continuously undermining the sovereignty of this country by promoting regime change. He emphasized the need for the traditional leaders to close down the space for NGOs (Crisis Coalition).

Institutional reform

  • As the country prepares for elections, the Zimbabwe Election Commission chairperson resigns (Crisis). This move has been widely condemned by some, for example, the National Constitutional Assembly stated that, "Why has Mutambanengwe resigned? He has not been working, allowing his friends in Zanu-PF to dominate ZEC. It shows a lack of responsibility because he has been in Namibia all the time,"
  • As if this has not caused a big institutional dent, Zanu PF Politburo member and former party Chairman Jacob Mudenda has been appointed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Chairman. This move has been viewed by many Zimbabweans as one of the biggest betrayals and people are especially not happy that the MDC appeared to have acquiesced to this move.

Commenting on this development, Zimbabweans on social media forums are saying

'Everything is carefully calculated and people are carefully placed to make it seem like everything is democratic....Yet our people can still be tormented even if they go to the human rights commision..Hatina kwekutizira..kumberi kune gomo kumusana kune moto'

'Its like employing a snake to investigate on the sudden disappearance of a number of rats'.

'Zim suffers a lot & is still going to do so, not because of the intimidation & violence of bad people BUT because of the silence of good people'.

'This appointment honestly baffles me. It just undoes the precedence that originally had been set by Prof Austin's then appointment. I struggle to understand how the PM & DPM would give in to this. Am I wrong to suggest that it's an appeasement of some sort to Mugabe?'

'Why does the MDC agree to this? Maybe it is time to replace Morgan as he no longer has the Fight!!'

So you call the above progress? EU decision on Zimbabwean sanctions

While all the above is happening, the European Union agreed to suspend the travel ban on 6 members of the Zimbabwean government citing that there has been significant progress in the country. In their final text of the Zimbabwe, they said in part:

"The Council today agreed to suspend the travel ban on 6 members of the Zimbabwean government. We have also taken 21 people and one company off our sanctions list. This is in recognition of significant political progress in the country. In particular, the agreement between the political parties on a final draft constitution and the announcement of a referendum. This adds further momentum to the reform process and paves the way for peaceful, transparent and credible elections later this year. We have made it clear we are ready to go further as further progress is made. A peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would be an important milestone. We hope that all political parties will continue the positive momentum."


The above scenarios clealry demonstrate that the Zimbabwean authorities are taking liberties, with ZANU PF which is in control of the security sector unleashing the police at will. Even the MDC has been coerced to be a partner in crime either through acquiesence and/or inaction. The dominant ZANU PF is even taking the liberties of playing a similar game with the international community, by simply going through the motions of feigned reforms for as long as such reforms do not etch away their power base.

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