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RFK Center, ZLHR and NGO Forum highlight recent pattern of suppression in Zimbabwe at African Commission
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
April 11
, 2013

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (NGO Forum) hosted a gathering of over 50 of Africa’s top human rights advocates in Banjul, The Gambia yesterday to discuss the current shrinking space for civil society in Zimbabwe.

The event, held on the sidelines of the NGO Forum in advance of this week’s session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), convened a expert panel that included Dzimbabwe Chimbga (ZLHR), Susan Mutambasere (NGO Forum), Mabassa Fall (International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH), Hassan Shire (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network), and Wade McMullen (RFK Center).

"Zimbabwe's troubles from 2008-9 have returned," noted Chimbga, "Over 400 human rights defenders have been targeted by the government in various ways in recent months." The RFK Center's recent high-level delegation to Zimbabwe echoed the sentiment of the panel, finding systemic repression of civil society in violation of Zimbabwe’s international obligations under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. During the RFK Center visit, several additional concerns arose with regularity, including: a general lack of progress on reforms outlined in the Global Political Agreement; increased intimidation, threats, and violence against civil society; and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

Wade McMullen, Staff Attorney for the RFK Center, added deep concerns regarding the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly as Zimbabwe cracks down on any group seemingly critical of the government. In recent months Zimbabwe has banned shortwave radios and suppressed the rights of groups such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) to engage in peaceful protest and public demonstration. "There is a clear pattern of violation of these fundamental rights protected by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other international treaties," McMullen said, "In turn, this pattern of suppression imperils the rights of all Zimbabweans to participate freely in the government of their country."

Several key issues were brought to the fore in the ensuing discussion, including the need for solidarity across the African continent and international community in advance of the impending elections in Zimbabwe. In response, pledges of solidarity, information sharing, and technical support came from across the region, including from human rights advocates in Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, and Uganda. In particular, the discussion highlighted the need of SADC to both monitor and ensure that Zimbabwe’s electoral environment is free and fair in the months leading up to the vote.

The human rights activists gathered in Banjul advocated for a strong response from the African Commission on the issue of Zimbabwe. As a result of the side event, a resolution was passed by the entire NGO Forum, requesting that the African Commission more effectively engage on the issue of Zimbabwe, and, among other specific actions, to follow up on the Commission’s provisional measures recently promulgated demanding that Zimbabwe allow members of the diaspora to vote in the 2013 elections.

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