False dawn: The Zimbabwe power-sharing government's failure to deliver human rights improvements

I. Introduction

More than six months after the formation of a transitional, power-sharing government in Zimbabwe between the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), there has been little progress in instituting any promised human rights reforms and in demonstrating respect for the rule of law. ZANU-PF, the former ruling party, wields significantly more power than the MDC, and ZANU-PF supporters continue to commit abuses against their perceived political opponents with impunity.

There is mounting evidence that the new government is failing or unwilling to end serious human rights violations, restore the rule of law, institute fundamental rights reforms, and chart a new political direction for the country. Despite commitments made by all parties, the new power-sharing government has not taken any significant steps to ensure justice for victims of abuses or hold perpetrators of human rights violations to account. Police, prosecuting authorities, and court officials aligned with ZANU-PF continue to conduct politically motivated prosecutions of MDC legislators and activists.

This inaction cannot be blamed on the country's financial crisis, itself caused by ZANU-PF's years of misrule before 2009. Instead, it is due to an absence of political will. ZANU-PF retains control of all senior ministries, including the Ministries of Defence, Justice, State Security, and Foreign Affairs; and it co-chairs Home Affairs. The party therefore wields significantly more power than the MDC in the government, and is unwilling to institute human rights and governance reforms. Although the MDC has formal control of some ministries, President Mugabe unilaterally appointed permanent secretaries to all ministries, ensuring that ZANU-PF maintains control of them. Lacking real political power to effect reforms, the MDC is unable to push for human rights reforms and appears to be giving ground to ZANU-PF in order to ensure the survival of the power-sharing government.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed in September 2008, calls on its signatory parties to "build a society free of violence, fear, intimidation, hatred, patronage, corruption and founded on justice, fairness, openness, transparency, dignity and equality." Human Rights Watch endorses this insightful conclusion and calls on the power-sharing government, as well as Zimbabwe's neighbors and allies, to ensure that the country embraces progressive and sustainable change. If not, Zimbabwe risks sliding back into violence and chaos.

This report recommends a range of fundamental reforms that the power-sharing government should undertake to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Without these institutional and legislative reforms, as well as the establishment of genuine respect for the basic rights of all Zimbabweans, there can be no long-term, sustainable peace and stability in Zimbabwe. These changes will also finally allow Zimbabweans to elect leaders of their choice. And once these reforms are in place, Zimbabwe will be better placed to attract international development assistance and private sector investment.


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