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Violence looms large against the backdrop of the UN's call for cessation of reprisals
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
February 27, 2013


Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening speech at the on-going UN Human Rights Council 22nd Session, raised great concern that so many State authorities continued to ignore or repress civil society organizations, human rights defenders and the media. According to Madam Pillay, 'Such pressure or reprisals against those who rightly sought to engage the international human rights system should never be tolerated.' Although she did not explicitly mention Zimbabwe, her speech actually typifies the current situation in Zimbabwe. In this issue we provide some of the vignettes to illustrate this. Among other developments, we start on a note of hope by reporting on the recent case in which Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum assisted a litigant to successfully challenge impunity through judicial recourse. On a sad note, we provide a political violence mapping recently carried out by Heal Zimbabwe, the tragic story of a boy who was burnt to death in a politically motivated arson, as well as the current crackdown on civil society organisations and the right to free expression and assembly.

Impunity challenged

A well-known perpetrator of politically motivated violence Mr Garikayi Nyamakombo is arrested and detained after the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum successfully challenges the prevalent culture of impunity in Zimbabwe. Mr Nyamakombo led two other ZANU PF supporters and assaulted Caleb Marange in 2006 in Marondera in an act of politically motivated violence. In a statement, The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum welcomes this development as a glimmer of hope in the judiciary system given the prevalence of impunity in Zimbabwe.

Politically motivated violations trends

January-December 2012

In its Report titled 'Trends of politically motivated human rights violations (January-December 2012)', Heal Zimbabwe provides a detailed mapping and analysis of politically motivated human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The Report states that in the year 2012, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces recorded the highest cases of politically motivated violence while Mashonaland West, Harare and Matabeleland provinces recorded the least cases for the year. The most common forms of politically motivated human rights violations in the period under review were intimidation, harassment and assault. The parties involved in most cases were MDC T and ZANU PF members.

The Report also reports on the saddening trend that people in various levels of institutional authority have been involved in committing a number of human rights violations. Members of the police and army have been singled out in a number of cases as spearheading political violence on innocent civilians and members of political parties.
The Report further addresses the unfair distribution of food aid especially in areas that recorded poor rains resulting in poor harvests as another form of recurrent violation.

These cases of harassment and intimidation, the Report says, is a strategy that is being used to send fear to people. The intimidations can be viewed as dangerous in that, communities are still aware of the violations they witnessed in 2008 and any stark reminder to them that such misfortune will befall them is scary resulting in many of them resorting to shy away from democratic processes.

January 2013 to present

Although the political parties including President Robert Mugabe have called for peaceful conduct during and after the referendum and national elections, violence continues to be reported across the country. According to Irin News, and also widely reported by leading Zimbabwean civil society organisations, over the weekend, a 12-year-old boy died after the shelter he was sleeping in was set on fire during skirmishes between ZANU-PF and MDC supporters in Manicaland, 200km east of the capital. The house was petrol-bombed by people believing that the boy's father, a candidate for Tsvangirai's party in the up-coming elections, was sleeping inside.

Some parts of civil society are of the view that the loss of a child and property to a fire caused by suspected political arsonists in Headlands is evidence that political conflict is still ablaze after the Government of National Unity (GNU)'s national healing programme flopped (Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, 25.02.2013)

Heal Zimbabwe Trust Director Rashid Mashiya said the tragic incident only brought out what is in the unhealed communities.

Freedom of Expression

The right to freedom of expression including receiving and imparting information or ideas is under severe threat after Police in Zimbabwe have announced a ban on the possession of shortwave radio receivers, saying they are being used to communicate hate speech ahead of next month's constitutional referendum and elections set to be held in July.

This ban has been widely criticised across Zimbabwe. The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) - a group comprising the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, the Federation of African Media Women of Zimbabwe and other groups advocating for freedom of expression - has condemned the ban on radio receivers.
In a statement, MAZ noted that "owning and distributing radio receivers is not illegal and that confiscating them is a gross violation of citizens' rights to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, as enshrined in Section 20 of the Constitution."

Urging the police to reverse the ban, MAZ pointed out that it would deprive people of an important source of information ahead of two critical national events.

In a statement, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition states that the confiscation violates section 20 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act and article 9 of the African Charter of Human and People's Rights.

Crackdown on NGOs

In recent weeks, police have also been conducting a crackdown on NGOs and human rights groups, raiding offices, confiscating files and arresting employees (IRIN News).

According to Parliamentary Watch (26.02.2013) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Republic Police Deputy Commissioner-General Innocent Matibiri, who is in charge of Operations told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs chaired by MDC-T Member of Parliament for Glenview South Paul Madzore, that 99 percent of NGO's operating in Zimbabwe were Western sponsored and pushing for a regime change agenda.

The ZRP, Matibiri revealed had deployed "sufficient intelligence network" across the country to monitor the day to day activities of NGO's and some unidentified political parties whose operations he claimed were motivated by devious intentions.

The deployment of secret intelligence across the country has been confirmed by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (25.02.2013). Reporting on Masvingo, Crisis states that "Sources inside the security sector have revealed that a contingent comprising of a 10 member high level gang of the Central Intelligence Organization from Harare are on a tour to threaten, thwart NGOs work in Masvingo ahead of the referendum and general elections." According to COTRAD, the CIO team has a list of 10 people they are targeting.

According to Crisis, the current attacks echo similar NGO crackdowns in Masvingo in February 2011 and also what was said at the ZANU PF 13th Annual conference in Gweru in December 2012 where it was resolved to wage war against NGOs. The full Report by Crisis is available upon request.

In a statement, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on 21 February 2013 criticized the three-party inclusive government, for failing to prevent "a sustained and escalating assault on NGOs involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision - all of which are lawful endeavours."

Draconian Public Order Laws

According to Veritas Parliamentary Watch (25.02.2013), on Tuesday 19th February Mr Gonese, the MP who introduced the POSA (Public Order and Security Act) Amendment Bill, tried valiantly, with the help of MDC Senators, to persuade the Senate to vote for his motion to revive the lapsed motion from the previous session seeking the Bill's restoration to the Senate Order Paper. The ZANU-PF Senators who spoke opposed the motion, claiming Mr Gonese had withdrawn the Bill when he agreed to the POSA issue being dealt with at GPA Principals level. The full Report is available on request and the Bill as passed by the House is available from


On the evidence available and based on previous trends, as the country heads for crucial political processes, the instigation of violence is likely to be both top down and bottom up. The bottom level violence is likely to be both spontaneous and unpredictable. There is a high likelihood of copycat violence and conditioned responses to any attempts to upset the current political order.

Stakes are high and there are large swathes of communities that have blindly bought into the culture of violence including some of the apostolic sects who have vowed to support the President under all circumstances. Both civil society organisations and communities need to respond to this in an evidence-based fashion as informed by past trends. In our view, there is a need for vigilance as the police force are likely to selectively respond to incidents of violence and selectively apply the law. What will also be decisive is the extent to which people who are committed to the cause of a peaceful election will stand as each other's 'keeper' and agree on ways to either mitigate harm or completely stay out of harm's way , if at all possible.

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