Courageous voices speak out on Zimbabwe oppression

Human and civil rights abuses committed by government forces in Zimbabwe are common occurrences.Ordinary citizens are targeted and tortured for supporting opposition parties and force is frequently used to deter any criticism of the government.

The need for the ordinary citizen to be aware of their civil and human rights is an important focus for Trócaire's partners, Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation (ZimRights). They play a key role in providing education and training for ordinary citizens in a beleaguered Zimbabwe. By mobilising people on the ground to be watchful of human rights abuses, ZimRights makes individuals more conscious of their rights, and ensures that abuses don't go unnoticed or unreported. This is important work in Zimbabwe, where few torturers or perpetrators of violence are ever brought to justice, and there is a sense that the law is indifferent to illegal actions carried out in the name of the state.

In the town of Chitungwiza, Netsai Kaitano is the chairperson of the local branch of ZimRights. An ordinary mother who was herself a victim of military brutality, Netsai says that rather than break her spirit, her experience has hardened her resolve. "I was attacked and tortured by soldiers because they thought I was a member of the opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)," she said "I have never been involved with the MDC but if I wanted, I should be entitled to have an affiliation to a legitimate political party."

As chairperson Netsai is responsible for co-ordinating ZimRights activities in the region. They have documented rape, beatings, murders and political acts of violence committed by security forces. All human rights abuses are documented and passed on to the national ZimRights council in Harare, who work with other organisations to compile an overview of the human rights situation country-wide.

Netsai and her team have also trained officially as electoral monitors, and are part of a group of 105 monitors qualified in the region. However, the ZANU-PF government has changed the law, replacing locally trained volunteer monitors with civil servants loyal to the government line. Netsai's team have been denied accreditation, without which they cannot gain access to the counting station at times of local and national elections. As monitors they were entitled to query any wrong-doings they found, at any stage of the electoral process. Nowadays, they are election observers who attend the polling stations during elections but have no rights or authority and can only document corrupt practices.

Getting the message out is one of the challenges for the group and they do this through various social forums including residents' associations, traders and church groups. They had previously used drama groups to get the message out but that activity has since been banned by the government. When Trócaire went to meet the regional branch it was pointed out that because there were five people in the room we were in fact breaking the law, under the repressive and illegal Public Order and Security Act of 2004.

"We are committed to informing people of their rights in this country," Netsai told Trócaire "the more obstacles they put in our way, the more determined we are to stay focused until the day comes where we can speak our opinions and act without fear in Zimbabwe."