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Jestina Mukoko receives International Women of Courage Award - Peace Watch 3/2010
March 11, 2010

Congratulations to Zimbabwe Peace Project Director Jestina Mukoko on being one of the ten world-wide winners of the US State Department’s International Women of Courage awards for 2010. Jestina was in Washington yesterday, when the awards were presented by US First Lady Michelle Obama at a ceremony at the State Department presided over by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Presenting Jestina’s award, Mrs Obama said: “Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe was abducted from her home, she was tortured, she was interrogated for hours while forced to kneel on gravel, all for the simple act of speaking out about the government’s human rights abuses. Yet, she emerged unbroken … That is the thread that runs through all of our honorees’ stories, that ability to draw strength from suffering, the determination to not just advance their own lives, but the lives of others, as well.”

Extracts from Jestina’s Acceptance Speech

“…it is an honour to be accorded this opportunity that cannot be taken for granted, to speak on behalf of these remarkable women. They have carved different but inspiring stories in their countries, from being denied growing up in their country of birth, being internally displaced, and suffering brutality at the hands of the police and other agencies. On behalf of the awardees, we accept this prestigious award with humility, knowing full well that we have been propelled to this stage by other courageous women who have sacrificed a lot, and some even their lives in some cases. By accepting this award bestowed on the 10 of us, we confirm that women have a place in the fight for equality and justice, as this award we believe actually belongs to the multitude of women we work with and some we honour posthumously today because they are no longer with us, having died fighting the good fight. The award beckons us to stand tall and refuse to be intimidated and harassed, as these are tactics to remove us from the focus of our objectives. We do not want to be passive bystanders, and it is such recognition that ensures that we do not tire until we reach the finish line and pass the baton to the next generation, the girls who are among us. The situation of women in conflict situations is sad, as we know that they bear the brunt of violence … I am inspired by stories of courage as women who have consistently fought for the defence and the protection of human rights for all … it also gives us an opportunity to interact, share experiences, and learn from each other with the simple objective of making the fight for equality and justice universal. Thank you.”

The Need for Women to be Involved in Peace Processes

Jestina went on to talk about the fact that, although women so courageously bear the brunt of violence and conflict, they are often left out of initiatives to build peace: “… as peace comes on the horizon, women are easily forgotten to take part in the initiatives that could mend their souls. If only the suffering of women in conflict could be matched with equal participation in initiatives to build peace, we believe the results would be lasting and sustainable.

Tribute to Families

“… this award rewards our families and friends who lose sleep and are traumatized every time that we experience imprisonment or abuse because without their support, we might have given up

A reminder

Jestina was abducted from her home in the early morning of 3rd December 2008 by State agents and for the next three weeks was a “disappeared” person. Family and friends did not know where she was, whether she was alive or dead. Many feared the worst. [Later it emerged that during this time she was humiliated, tortured, denied medical treatment, not allowed to call in her lawyers.] Brought to court by police just before Christmas on charges of recruiting persons for training as insurgents, bandits, saboteurs or terrorists, she then spent several weeks in Chikurubi maximum security prison while her lawyers fought for bail or at least her removal to hospital for badly needed medical treatment not available in prison. She was eventually moved to a private hospital in mid-February 2009. In April, along with other abductees, including Zimbabwe Peace Project staffer Broderick Takawira, she was indicted for trial in the High Court, with the trial date set for 20th July.

Meanwhile, in January 2009 she had applied to the Supreme Court for an order stopping the criminal proceedings against her on the ground of the breaches of her constitutional rights that had occurred in the course of her abduction, illegal detention, denial of medical treatment, etc. On 28th September the Supreme Court issued an order granting the permanent stay of the criminal proceedings. A noteworthy feature of the proceedings in the Supreme Court was that Ms Mukoko’s evidence of torture and other violations of constitutional rights was not contested by the State, indeed, the State submitted an affidavit by a Government Minister claiming that the State agents concerned had been carrying out their mandate. The effect of the court’s order was to stop immediately, and for good, the High Court criminal trial against Jestina. This in turn meant the restoration of her freedom, she was no longer an accused person on bail, no longer obliged to report regularly to the police, and at last able to retrieve her passport from the authorities and travel outside the country

No cases brought against perpetrators of torture

As far as is known, not a single one of the Stage agents allegedly responsible for the abductions, illegal detention and torture of those were abducted and “disappeared” in late 2008 has been the subject of police investigation, prosecution or even internal departmental disciplinary proceedings.

News of the other abductees

Also among the cases treated as “disappeared” at the end of 2008 [after the signing of the GPA] were over twenty MDC activists and two other ZPP workers. One of the peace workers, Pascal Gonzo, was later released without charge, but ZPP’S Broderick Takawira and fourteen others were indicted for trial before the High Court and are now awaiting the outcome of applications to the Supreme Court for the stopping of their trials. Meanwhile, as persons awaiting trial, they are on bail, unable to travel and with their freedom of movement within the country restricted by the obligation to report regularly to police. The applications have not even been set down for hearing, because the preparation of the records of the High Court proceedings is not complete and the Supreme Court’s reasons for judgment in Jestina’s case have not yet been released –the judgment will be a vital precedent in the consideration of these applications.

Civil claims for compensation

Jestina Mukoko and 17 other abductees have brought High Court civil claims, against both the Government and the individual security agents concerned, seeking compensation for the breaches of their constitutional rights perpetrated against them, abduction, unlawful detention, torture and other inhuman treatment. The cases have now reached the pre-trial conference stage, the stage at which the parties and their lawyers meet before a judge to identify what is and what is not in dispute between them in order to narrow down the issues to be canvassed when the trials commence.

Two of the abductees back in custody on murder charge

Emmanuel Chinanzvavana and Fanny Tembo, two of the original October 2008 abductees from Banket, were re-arrested in January this year on a new charge – suspicion of involvement in the apparent murder of local ZANU-PF councillor Lancelot Zvirongwe. They have been in Chinhoyi remand prison ever since. An application by their lawyers for their removal from remand was dismissed by a Chinhoyi magistrate on 9th March. A bail application is due to be heard by a High Court judge on 15th March [bail applications in murder cases cannot be dealt with by a magistrate].

Abductee photojournalist Manyere re-arrested three times

Freelance photojournalist Andrisson Manyere, one of the December 2008 abductees and still on bail as an accused person in one of the postponed High Court criminal trials [see above], has been subjected to continued harassment. He has been apprehended three times since the beginning of 2010, without good cause. He has to fulfil bail conditions and is unable to travel. His valuable photographic equipment, taken from him in December 2008, has not been returned. And now he is being harassed when trying to make a living to support his family. His re-arrests have revived memories of his abduction, long imprisonment without medical treatment and alleged torture, and have been harrowing for his wife and children, who fear the worst every time he is arrested.

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