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«L’OBSERVATOIRE EL OBSERVATORIO pour la Protection des Défenseurs para la Protección de los Defensores de des Droits de l’Homme Derechos Humanos ...»

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Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister and Africa’s most feted leader following the 1980 elections. The 1988 merger of ZANU and ZAPU, creating ZANU-PF, paved the way for constitutional change, giving Mugabe executive presidential powers and turning the country into a de facto one-party State. Forcible seizures of mostly white-owned land by veterans of the liberation struggle crippled the economy and led to a chronic shortage of basic The Commonwealth group invited by the Zimbabwean authorities to observe the 2002 presidential election strongly condemned the conduct of the poll. Observers from a Norwegian mission and the local Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) also issued condemnation of the elections, saying it was held in a climate of fear. See Commonwealth Observer Group’s preliminary report on Zimbabwe presidential elections, www.afrol.com.

commodities and services from 2000. Following a seriously flawed 2002 presidential election, Mugabe resorted to using State machinery, war veterans and youth militias to intimidate the population, suppress dissent, gag the media and violate human rights.

Zimbabweans continue to face economic turmoil characterised by endemic corruption and homelessness, especially after homes of 700,000 people were destroyed during the “Operation Murambatsvina” in May 20053, unemployment of over 80%, food shortages and collapse of vital services. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among adults was estimated in 2005 to be 20.1 %4. In January 2008, the annual inflation rate rose to almost 100,000 %, the world’s highest5.

The Government has generally engaged in the pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights and intimidation.

The ruling party’s dominant control and manipulation of the political process through intimidation and corruption have effectively negated the right of citizens to change their government using peaceful and non-violent means.

Unlawful killings and politically motivated kidnappings have occurred. The State has sanctioned the use of excessive force and torture, and security forces have tortured members of the opposition, union leaders, human rights defenders and civil society activists. Prison conditions are harsh and life threatening. Security forces have arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists, demonstrators, and religious leaders; lengthy pre-trial detention is a problem. Executive influence and interference in the judiciary are other problems. The Government continues to forcibly evict citizens and to demolish homes. It also continues to use repressive laws to suppress freedoms of speech, press, assembly, movement, association, and academic freedom. Government corruption and impunity remain widespread.

The following human rights violations also continue to occur: harassment of human rights and humanitarian nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and interference with their attempts to provide humanitarian assistance;

violence and discrimination against women; child labour and prostitution; discrimination against persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities; an increase in the number of HIV/AIDS orphans and child-headed households;

harassment and interference with labour organisations critical of government policies; and attempts to supplant legitimate labour leaders with hand-picked supporters.

In addition, human rights defenders have faced many restrictions related with their rights to peaceful assembly, freedoms of association and expression. Lawyers, activists and members of the opposition are regularly arbitrarily arrested, detained and beaten during arrest and while in police custody.

3. Context in the run up of the March 29, 2008 harmonised Presidential and Parliamentary elections During the mission’s visit, less than two months before the scheduled elections, Zimbabwe was closer than ever to complete collapse. Inflation was over 100,000%. Four out of five of the country’s twelve million people live below the poverty line and a quarter has fled, mainly to neighbouring countries6. A military-led campaign to slash prices has produced acute food and fuel shortages, as the mission has witnessed not only in Harare, but in Bulawayo and Mutare too. The initiative launched by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to facilitate a negotiated political solution, initially thought to be the only realistic chance to escape a crisis that increasingly threatened to destabilise the region, has all but failed to produce a possible solution with the current President Mugabe and his henchmen showing determination to remain in power at any cost.

On January 23, 2008, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) planned a Harare protest march against Government for the economic run down and to demand a new Constitution before the March 2008 elections. The opposition and civil society activists’ belief was that a new Constitution was essential before the country could go into another election, since the current Constitution centralised power in the Executive and was seen as the main weapon that Mugabe’s Government had used not just to retain power, persecute opposition and human rights defenders, but also to remove checks and balances that are so necessary for democracy and the rule of law. Holding elections under the current Constitution, which has been amended so many times to consolidate rather than to devolve power, was seen as a shear waste of time as the elections were unlikely to be free and fair. Although many On May 19, 2005, with little or no warning, the Government of Zimbabwe embarked on an operation to “cleanup” its cities. Because of its speed, it resulted in the destruction of homes, business premises and vending sites. It is estimated that some 700,000 people in cities across the country lost either their homes, their sources of livelihood or both. Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children were made homeless without access to food, water and sanitation or health care.

See the World Health Report 2006 of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

See The Zimbabwe Situation, www.zimbabwesituation.com.

See International Crisis Group, Africa Report n°132, Zimbabwe : A Regional Solution ?, September 18, 2007.

had thought the march would be “allowed” to proceed given the SADC initiative, the police banned the rally from taking place, claiming that it was illegal and was likely to cause “public disorder and unrest”7. Following the prohibition order issued by the Zimbabwe police, police made a pre-dawn raid of Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai’s house (the leader of the main MDC) and arrested him. Mr. Tsvangirai was later released with Government referring to his interaction with the police as merely “an invitation” by the law and order authorities for a discussion on the proposed march. After a court application to reverse the ban was filed on behalf of MDC, the Magistrate’s Civil Court in Harare ruled on March 22, 2008 that the march should not be held in town as earlier planned and that the MDC could continue and have a rally at the Glamis stadium at the Harare showground. As political activists were going down to the stadium, the police started beating and arresting people for no apparent reason. This is seen as evidence application of repressive law, as about three weeks before the MDC planned march, militias linked to President Mugabe’s Government, lead by a war veteran, Mr. Jabulani Sibanda, had been allowed to march in Harare in what they referred to as the million men march. Not only were these militias linked to the ruling party given permission to march, but they were also given police escort.

Furthermore, there have been countless attacks and harassment on political activists, most especially those of the MDC. Outstanding among these was the March 11, 2007 beating which prompted the initiation of the SADC Facilitation (Mediation) initiative between Government and the opposition8.

The SADC initiative is fragile but South Africa and the other regional countries are the only external actors having a chance to make a difference, given the bad public relations that existed between the country and the international community after President Mugabe’s Government used extensive propaganda and public posturing to portray the Zimbabwean crisis as one not of governance, but one reflecting a bilateral dispute between Zimbabwe and its former colonial master United Kingdom, supported by other Western Governments. Western sanctions - mainly targeting just over 200 members of the leadership with travel bans and asset freezes - have proven largely symbolic, and general condemnations from the United Kingdom and the United States of America continue to be “manipulated” by the Government of Zimbabwe as they help Mugabe to claim that he is the victim of and victor over neo-colonial ambitions. To prove this, Mugabe outmanoeuvred rivals in March 2007 to gain the ZANU-PF nomination for a new term. The party also bypassed Mbeki’s mediation by advancing a unilateral Constitutional Amendment No. 18 in September 2007 that merely made cosmetic changes tightening its hold on power and providing what has been viewed as an insurance position for ZANU-PF in that the Constitution provides for Parliament and not the people of Zimbabwe as is the custom to choose the next President of the country in the event that Mugabe does not last his term in office if re-elected in March 2008 through hook or crook. The concern of civil society is that through this amendment ZANU-PF has guaranteed that it will remain in power for at least another five years whatever the views of Zimbabweans are given that Mugabe will most likely declare himself the winner of elections after the March 29 vote. Worse still, the MDC is bitterly divided and appears unable to mobilise effective collective opposition. It is very evident now that Zimbabwe is more at crossroads than ever before. But a solution usually comes at crisis point. Former Finance Minister Simba Makoni’s decision to challenge Mugabe on independent candidature is a courageous position that Zimbabwe had not seen in the recent past. It remains to be seen how far this new breath will last.

Similarly, the Government’s Secretary for Information and Publicity Mr. George Charamba, has spoken strongly against what he terms ‘reckless statements’ by MDC officials in which they threatened a repeat of civil unrest in Kenya.

On March 11, 2007, a prayer meeting that was supposed to take place in Harare was brutally and violently broken up by the police in Zimbabwe resulting in injury to over 60 people, including the leader of the main opposition MDC party, Morgan Tsvangirai.



The situation of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe is indicative of the general human rights situation in the country. Death threats, disappearances, fears of arrest and torture of human rights defenders are alarmingly common. All the human rights defenders interviewed by the mission held the view that the operating environment of defenders and NGOs in Zimbabwe was very harsh and dangerous. Human rights defenders have been linked to the opposition party MDC and termed “agents” of the West by Government. Moreover, the Government has continued to remain adamant and largely non-responsive on policy and practice issues raised by NGOs and their umbrella bodies all over Zimbabwe.

In the run up to the March 29, 2008 harmonised Presidential and Parliamentary elections, the defence of human rights remains severely constrained, through State and non state related activities of clamp down and erosion of the democratic space.

Multi pronged responses were undertaken by civil society with key actors taking positions in respect of the March 2008 elections, electoral harmonisation and constitutional amendments. Such individuals and organisations were met with State repression and violence through the various law enforcement agents resulting in arbitrary executions of some activists and journalists, arbitrary arrests and detentions, kidnapping and abductions, torture and incommunicado detention, surveillance, defamation through the public media, etc. (this list is not exhaustive).

The economic environment has continued to create fertile ground for authoritarian rule as more of the ordinary citizens began to share and show feelings of discontent and rage over the prevailing economic mis-governance routed in infringement of human rights and absence of enabling constitutional framework.

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