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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • A promise in peril: How widespread rights violations undermine Zimbabwe's elections
    Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights
    July 08, 2013

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    1. Summary

    Zimbabwe is in the midst of an uncertain transition. Since the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2009, key reforms contained in the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which was in part meant to lay the groundwork for peaceful democratic elections, remain unimplemented. During this time period there has also been an increasingly limited democratic space, evidenced by the systematic intimidation, threats, violence, and arbitrary detention of human rights activists and civil society leaders, and the continued violations of freedom of expression and access to information. The prevailing electoral environment in Zimbabwe, which is characterized by clear breaches of international law, has seriously imperiled the rights of all citizens to vote and to participate freely in public affairs.

    The principal GNU partners were expected to cooperate in good faith to promote an electoral environment consistent with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, specifically Article 4, which stipulates that “human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are principles guiding the acts of its members.”

    The failure to meet this standard rests largely with the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) – led by 89-year-old president Robert Mugabe – which has stifled democratic progress and continues to selectively repress the legitimate activities of civil society, media professionals, and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). While President Mugabe signed into law a long-awaited new constitution on 22 May 2013 that curbs executive powers and clears the way for new elections, worries about continued democratic backsliding persist to this day.

    President Mugabe, the military, police, and security sector have abridged the human rights of the Zimbabwean people with impunity. Those who challenge President Mugabe’s directives are routinely branded “enemies of the state” and “agents of regime change.” These arbitrary labels have allowed authorities to arrest individuals and initiate often baseless criminal actions to stifle peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression. The criminalization of human rights defenders and democracy activists throughout the country has coincided with disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and murder to deter legitimate or otherwise legal democratic activities.

    Despite the existent power sharing agreement, ZANU-PF maintains control over important ministerial portfolios pertaining to defense, home affairs, the security sector, and mines and mining development, further enabling the overall oppressive environment. What is more, ZANU-PF has recently succeeded in placing party stalwarts to manage and oversee important state institutions, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC).

    This report takes stock of these and other pertinent developments to highlight the severely compromised electoral environment that exists in Zimbabwe today. This overall assessment is bolstered by several recurring themes that arose during a March 2013 international delegation to Zimbabwe that was organized by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center). The main concerns of domestic actors in Zimbabwe included:

    1. A lack of progress on reforms outlined in the Global Political Agreement;
    2. Increased intimidation, threats, and violence against civil society; and
    3. Violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information

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