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Demonstrators assaulted during International Day of Peace event in Zimbabwe
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center)

September 19, 2013

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) condemns today’s assault on peaceful demonstrators from the civic group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). The physical brutality inflicted on WOZA members, including National Coordinator Jenni Williams and Programs Manager Magondonga Mahlangu, came on a day meant to commemorate the International Day of Peace, which will be celebrated throughout the world on September 21.

Today’s demonstration, which took place outside parliament in Harare, was held under the banner of “Peace Must Deliver Freedom and Development for All,” a reminder to Zimbabwe’s elected officials that much work needs to be done to improve the country’s lack of adherence to both domestic and international legal obligations.

WOZA members intended to deliver a list of demands in accordance with newly enshrined principles in Zimbabwe’s constitution, including the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and free expression. Before WOZA members could make their way to parliament, riot police actively obstructed their path and reportedly began to physically assault upwards of 20 individuals. Several WOZA members were also arrested, with reports that Magadonga Mahlangu sustained multiple injuries after being beaten by police batons and thrown into a waiting truck that was then driven to Harare Central Police Station.

In March of this year, the RFK Center, in collaboration with Zimbabwe Lawyer’s for Human Rights (ZLHR), filed an application before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) to challenge the pattern of impunity in Zimbabwe, which has resulted in continued arrests, harassment, intimidation, and physical assaults on members of WOZA. The targeted crackdown on WOZA’s peaceful demonstrations has persisted in spite of a 2010 Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruling, which stated that the rights of WOZA members had been violated by the state as it continued to arrest, detain, and prosecute them for engaging in peaceful protest through public demonstrations. The petition detailed more than two dozen incidents of similar state-sponsored violence, establishing a clear pattern of suppression of WOZA's constitutionally protected rights.

"The systematic disregard for the rights to peaceful assembly and civic activism in Zimbabwe, as well as the mounting instances of police brutality, are highly alarming," said Santiago A. Canton, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center. "As President Mugabe prepares to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, we urge the international community to confront his government’s crackdown on civic activism. Mugabe must be held accountable for his repeated, though so far seemingly empty, promises to foster peace and tolerance following the country’s disputed elections.”

Overall, the government of Zimbabwe has engaged in a systematic crackdown on civil society and the human rights community, including arbitrary detention of activists and opposition supporters, and widespread violations against freedom of expression and access to information.

According to most recent reports, no charges were officially filed against the three WOZA demonstrators that were detained. The women remained in police custody for three hours, having been shuttled to multiple locations throughout Harare.

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