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elephant in the room: Reforming Zimbabwe’s security sector
ahead of elections
June 05, 2013
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security sector is key to ensuring that the upcoming 2013 presidential
and parliamentary elections are credible, free and fair. The
elections could usher in a government that would introduce and implement
far-reaching reforms in the security sector and in other sectors.
The current “unity
government” has, for various reasons, failed to advance
such important reforms, many of which have a huge bearing on the
human rights situation in the country, especially around elections.
The new constitution,
signed into law by President Robert Mugabe on May 22, 2013 following
16 referendum and the approval by the Zimbabwe parliament, replaces
the 1979 Lancaster
House Constitution. The new constitution may prove beneficial
to the electoral process as it prohibits any changes to the electoral
law once elections have been called. Also, it restores citizenship
and voting rights to those born in Zimbabwe to a parent or parents
with citizenship of another Southern African Development Community
(SADC) country but resident in Zimbabwe. While very important, the
new constitution is only one of the reforms required for an environment
conducive for credible elections.
for the elections – and the government that comes to power
– will be the role played by Zimbabwe’s state security
forces, particularly the Defense Forces, the police, and the Central
Intelligence Organization (CIO). The security forces have a long
history of partisanship on behalf of President Robert Mugabe and
the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF),
one of the parties in the current unity government, and the former
ruling party. Since independence in 1980, the army, police and CIO
have operated within a system that has allowed elements within their
ranks to arrest, torture and kill perceived opponents with impunity.
As such, reforming
the security sector is essential in ensuring that presidential and
parliamentary elections due by October 29, 2013, are credible, free
and fair. There are expectations that the elections would usher
in a democratically elected government with interest in addressing
the country’s longstanding and serious human rights issues.
But as things stand, the chances of having free, fair and credible
elections are slim, particularly given the shortcomings of security
sector reforms and reforms in other sectors.
is based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Zimbabwe’s
Harare, Bulawayo, the Midlands, Manicaland, Mashonal and East, Central
and West provinces in November and December 2012, and in February
2013. The report illustrates how the partisanship of the security
forces’ leadership has translated into abuses by these forces
against the MDC and civil society organizations across the country
and in political interference. Human Rights Watch interviewed over
50 victims of abuses, legislators, journalists, members of the army
and police, lawyers, and rights activists. We also reviewed Zimbabwe’s
Lancaster House constitution and new constitution, various laws
and regulations, police reports, newspaper accounts and reports
by local human rights organizations.
There is an
urgent need, ahead of the elections, for Zimbabwe’s security
forces to be drastically reformed, to create a political environment
conducive for holding non-violent and credible elections. Should
the security forces fail to adopt a professional, independent and
non-partisan role during elections, the new constitution and other
recent reforms including the setting up of a new Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission (ZEC) and the licensing of private daily papers, may
be insufficient to deliver the elections needed to put Zimbabwe
on a democratic and rights-respecting track.
reforms have not been introduced by the power-sharing unity government
consisting of ZANU-PF, President Mugabe’s party, and the two
factions of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Prime Minister
Morgan Tsvangirai heads the larger of MDC’s two factions.
The unity government was established under the 2008 Global
Political Agreement (GPA), which was underwritten by SADC and
the African Union (AU). It was intended to make institutional and
legal reforms to create a conducive environment for the holding
of free and fair elections. However, the outcome of the GPA was
a ZANU-PF dominated government with significantly more power than
MDC’s two factions. ZANU-PF has used its dominance to frustrate
or block reform efforts.
security forces, notably the military, have, for several years,
interfered in the nation’s political and electoral affairs
in ways that have adversely affected the ability of Zimbabwean citizens
to vote freely. This was particularly evident during the 2008 elections
where the army played a major role in supporting widespread and
that led to the killing of up to 200 people, the beating and
torture of 5,000 more, and the displacement of about 36,000 people.
Since then the leadership of the military, police and CIO, all appointed
by President Mugabe, remain unchanged, as have their clear, public
and vocal support for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
of the security forces’ leadership has translated into abuses
by these forces against MDC members and supporters, an d civil society
organizations. Although the Lancaster House and the new constitutions,
as well as various laws, requires neutrality and impartiality from
the security forces, no effort has been made to enforce them. Beyond
the open endorsement of ZANU-PF, the security forces have been deployed
across the country where they have intimidated, be at and committed
other abuses against Zimbabweans perceived to be supporting the
MD C or critical of the ZANU-PF officials in government. No members
of the security forces are known to have been disciplined or prosecuted
for acting in a partisan manner or committing criminal offenses
against the MDC and its supporters. Concerns about the role of the
security forces extend not only to situation prior to election day
and the voting it self, but to the critical post-election period.
the CIO has no legislative framework guiding its institutional set
up and operations. It is a department within the President’s
Office - the Department for State Security - with a minister responsible
for it and a director-general running it, its operations are shrouded
in secrecy. The CIO has operated more as the intelligence arm of
the ZANU-PF and has been implicated in serious human rights abuses
against ZANU-PF’s political opponents.
The unity government,
with support from SADC and the African Union, should urgently take
steps to ensure the political neutrality of the security forces,
namely by investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses by security
force personnel, publicly directing the leadership of the security
forces to carry out their responsibilities in a professional and
impartial manner, and appropriately punishing or prosecuting those
who fail to do so.
are also needed to increase the likelihood of credible, free and
fair elections. These include electoral reforms to ensure the independence
and enhance professionalism of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission,
and an updated voters roll under ZEC’s exclusive control.
Civil society groups, including human rights organizations, should
be able to freely conduct voter education across the country. State
media should give equal access to all political parties without
bias or favor, and laws infringing on the right to freedom of expression
should be amended or revoked. Finally, there should prompt deployment
of long-term domestic, regional and international election observers
with unfettered access to all parts of the country.
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