Report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Situation on Human Rights Defenders in Zimbabwe – 51st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 18 April – 2 May 2012
Madam Chair, honorable Commissioners, state delegates, ladies and gentlemen I thank you for this opportunity to address the 51st Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Zimbabwe celebrated its 32nd birthday yesterday after gaining its independence from British colonial rule on the 18th of April 1980. Zimbabwe has been a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), since ratifying the Treaty in 1986. Unfortunately despite being party to the Charter that encourages the promotion and protection of human rights, Zimbabwe continues to pay lip service to its commitments under the Charter. More particularly the life of human rights defender remains particularly under threat due to the restrictive and oppressive operating environment.
Madam Chair, since that last session of the Commission in 2011, ZLHR has documented more cases of human rights violations, whilst offering legal services to hrds whose rights have come under threat from state- and non-state actors purporting to act on behalf of the state. Legally registered NGOs working on human rights and humanitarian work continue to be targeted by the State through arrests, harassment and persecution. The following are cases in point:
· The arbitrary arrest, detention and arrest of three Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) employees at Gwanda Police station in the Southern Region of Zimbabwe constituted a major attack especially on Human Rights Defenders and violation on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Zimbabwe before the next elections. The judge who presided over the bail hearing of the case strongly condemned the handling of this case attacking the state for using the law to punish innocent people.
· In February the Provincial Governor of Mavingo, Titus Maluleke, purported to ban some 29 Non Governmental Organisations (NGO)’s operating in the province, claiming that they had not signed a Memorandaum of Understanding with the local authority. The Governor’s actions were surprising considering that he has no such authority at law to issue such a directive, and in any event to NGOs in question had not committed any offence. These were arbitrary and unlawful actions carried out by the governor with the backing of state security agents that flanked him as the announcement was made. The intention was to instil fear and disrupt activities of perceived enemies in the prevailing political environment
· Reports of harassment and constant surveillance of hrds continue to be received throughout the country. Recently the director of the NGO forum in Zimbabwe was summoned to the police on several occasions to explain the activities of his organization. The police continued to call upon him from time to time to report to them to discuss unspecified issues. Threats of prosecution were persistently made to him in the absence of any clear charges against him. The police only relented after the intervention of lawyers who challenged the police to reveal the lawful basis of the continued harassment of their client
· Madam chair the case of ‘rule by law’ persists in Zimbabwe where the State arrests, intimidates and persecute people using archaic and oppressive laws that have no place in a democratic society. A case in point is the insult laws that relate to Section 33 (2)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which creates an offence of undermining the authority of or insulting President Mugabe. It is clear that an offence of this nature has no place in modern democracy where any public office, not least that of the president ought to be subject to scrutiny and criticism from the public. Furthermore the offence itself is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed under section 20 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and various international human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe. Off the more than thirty cases of people arrested by the police under this charge none has ever been convicted. The law is clearly meant to harass, intimidate and curtail free political participation by all citizens.
· Madam Chairperson, many other cases of arrests, harassment and persecution of hrds, including women activists, students, political activists and trade unionists have been recorded over the same period. Most of these cases spectacularly collapse once they have been brought before the courts of all of law, giving credence to the fact that the State does actually abuse the authority and the law.
We therefore urge the Commission to:
1. Re-emphasise on the government of Zimbabwe the need to abide by its human rights obligations as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
2. Call upon the government of Zimbabwe to stop targeting HRDs through harassments, unjustified arrests, detention, un-warranted surveillance and malicious prosecutions and treating them as enemies of the State.
3. Call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to expeditiously repeal archaic, draconianand and repressive laws that curtail the enjoyment of freedoms of expression, association and assembly that are enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the African Charter
4. Urge the Government to recognize the work of HRDs and fully implement provisions of the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
5. Create an environment allowing for the enjoyment of freedom of expression and political participation
6. Encourage the government of Zimbabwe to guarantee non-partisan state security institutions: These institutions which have become openly partisan, especially during elections, swearing their allegiance to one party while being responsible for human rights violations, must be reformed and become non partisan
7. Lastly, we call on the Commission to prioritise its protective mandate to deal with the backlog of pending communications and avail effective remedies to the victims who have sought protection as this is fundamental to the protection of hrds on the continent.