Onslaught against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders



The FIDH and the OMCT have, as part of their joint programm, the Observatory for the protection of defenders of human rights, published in the coming event of the French-African Summit (Paris - the 20th and 21st of February) a ZimRights report on the "Onslaught against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe"(see www.fidh.org and www.omct.or).

The Observatory and Zimrights call on the French authorities

  • to act in accordance with the european policy, in particular regarding resolutions of the European Parliament and decisions of the Council, which has renewed targeted sanctions towards the Zimbabwean authorities considering the lack of any progress in the field of human rights.

  • to exercise the strongest political and diplomatic pressures against the authorities so as to garantee freedom of action for defenders and freedom of association.

Defenders of human rights have been one of the targets of the political violence that has marked Zimbabwe in 2002. This violence, caused by security forces and members of president's Mugabe party, has reached its height during the March presidential elections which have been tainted by serious irregularities.To add to this situation a food shortage which, in December 2002, affected almost 6 million person (out of a population of 11,9 million). The lack of food is due to the dryness which affects the south of Africa but is also due to political factors among which the lack of democratic control on the food distribution and the extreme polarisation concerning the right to land and the distribution of lands.

Numerous defenders - NGO's members, journalists defending democracy, trade unionists, or judges and sollicitors trying to exercise their profession with independence towards the power- have been this year arbitrarily arrested or sued. Those acts of reprisals have been followed by smear campaigns orchestrated by the authorities and relayed by the medias and have been reinforced by the adoption of restrictive legislations.

The authorities and pro-govermental newspapers have multiplied positions and articles denigrating NGOs: in March, three NGO have been accused in the newspaper The Chronicle of leading a campaign « demonizing Zimbabwe » and beeing « against Zimbabwe». In November, the Minister for Justice has released a list of NGOs, including Amani Trust and the Westinster Foundation for Democracy, presented as constituting a threat for national security and being financed by foreing funds, notably British.

Legislation on the Public Order and Security (POSA) and on the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (AIPPA), adopted respectively in January and March, restrict in a drastic way fondamental liberties. For exemple, the POSA allows to sue authors of public declarations involving the intention or the risk to « denigrate or insult the authorities, including declarations open to generate a feeling of hostility towards the President». To add with, the authorities have released a note in September which reinforces the application of the law on associations (PVO act), imposing on all NGOs to register to the Labour Ministry and to the Public Service. NGOs which are not registered face penal sanctions. They must cease all activities including funds raising. This notice testifies the will of the authorities to control and neutralize the independent civil society.

Hindrance to the defender's freedom of action and to freedom of association:

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is, since its creation in 1998, the target of an incessant onslaught. Its members are constantly threatened. During meetings, police forces deploy in numbers and disturb the agenda, as it was the case during the executive Council of the ZCTU in March, which could not take place. In December, several trade union leaders were arrested and released a few days later, the judge had refused to charge them in accordance with the POSA despite the request of the Public prosecutor.

NGOs have been denied their right to observe the elections during the presidential elections on the grounds of two laws: the first forbids NGOs and the civil society to form voters during the pre-electoral period and the second forbids NGOs to monitor the elections. The Minister of Justice nonetheless opened an accreditation list although very restrictive, rendering the system of observation ineffective. Numerous observators were arrested on the election day.

Lawyers and judges are particularly threatened and several of them are forced to resign. Sometimes, demonstrations are organized against magistrates. For exemple, in January, a member of ZANU-PF organized a demonstration against a magistrate of the Rusape Court after the latter had refused to release on bail supporters of the ZANU-PF party. In August two judges of Chipinge were seriously injured by supporters of the ZANU-PF. Allegedly, two police officers escorted these supporters and did not intervene to stop them. The president and the secretary of Lawyers for Human Rights were arrested in June on the grounds of fallacious informations.

Since 2000 Zimbabwe authorities have developed a neutralization strategy of all those who denounce violations and abuses commited by the goverment which are contrary to the principle of the Rule of Law. Thus, the authorities can openly violate freedoms of speach, association and demonstration guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Labor Organization Convention 87 on the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively ratified by Zimbabwe in 1998, and also the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted in 1998.

The Observatory for the protection of Human Rights Defenders and Zimrights urge to:

  • Immediately put an end to any kind of harassment against all human rights defenders and guarantee freedom of expression and association

  • Guarantee the independence of the judiciary

  • Order impartial investigations into acts of violence perpetrated against human rights defenders in order to sanction those responsible

  • Review legislation, in particular the provisions of the PVO act, the POSA and the AIPPA to put it in conformity with international human rights standards,

  • Ratify the ILO 87 Convention on the right to organise

  • Implement the principles stipulated in the NEPAD Declaration and adhere to the NEPAD African Peer Review mechanism

  • Give a positive answer to the request made by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders to visit the country.

The Observatory and Zimrights urge

  • Member states of the UN Commission on Human Rights to adopt, at its 59th session a resolution condemning human rights violations perpetrated in Zimbabwe

  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to give particular attention to the situation in Zimbabwe and adopt a resolution during its next session to be hold in May

  • The African Union, the NEPAD and the Southern of West African Development Community to give particular attention to the situation of human rights in Zimbabwe and to adopt the necessary measures to put an end to the deterioration of this situation.


A report by ZIMRIGHTS

In cooperation with
A joint program of the FIDH and the OMCT

On the basis of the information provided ZIMRIGHTS,
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR),
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN),
and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (USA)







- Introduction and background
- Specific events


a. Human rights defenders and Voter education
b. Human rights defenders and election monitoring
c. Human rights defenders and election days
d. Abduction and detention of Arnold Tsunga and other observers



a. Assault on Chipinge Magistrates Court after a ruling that was unfavourable to ZANU PF
b. Arbitrary search of Legal Firm, Gonese and Ndhlovu
c. Demonstrations at Rusape Magistrates Court
d. Law Society of Zimbabwe; Sternford Moyo and Wilbert Mapombere's case
e. Justice Blackie's case



* * *


Year 2002 has been marked by a high degree of political violence on the part of the security forces and members of the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the party of President Robert Mugabe. The presidential elections in March, which lead to the reelection of President Mugabe, were denounced by observers and the international community, as unfair and not free. Numerous acts of violence were registered against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the main opposition party. The human rights NGOs have also been banned from carrying out such tasks as civic education especially voter education, as well as election monitoring.

Another crucial issue was the severe food shortage that the country experienced this year. In December, approximately 6 million people (out of a total population of 11.9 million) were estimated to have insufficient production, income and entitlement to be able to meet their minimum food requirements. Though it is true that a drought has in recent months affected all of Southern Africa, thus limiting the food availability, it is far from enough to explain the amplitude and the severity of the food shortage. Political factors, among which the lack of democratic control and an extreme politicization of the issue of land rights seem to be the main causes behind the crisis. The manner in which the "fast track" land redistribution program has been enforced seems indeed to serve only narrow political interests, and has de facto harmed the very population it was supposed to benefit, i.e. the poor black rural population.1

This extreme polarisation of political life and the intolerance of the authorities towards any kind of dissent or independent voice have lead to numerous political opposition members and representatives of civil society being charged and arrested. In this context, human rights defenders have been under fire, be they members of human rights NGOs, journalists defending democracy and denouncing human rights violations, trade unionists, or even lawyers and judges who took independent and impartial decisions against the government. Human rights NGOs were subject to increasing defamation campaigns on the part of the authorities, who intensified the pressure against them in particular by issuing a notice, in September, urging them to stop their activities, if they failed to register under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (See below).

This move was strengthened by the adoption of extremely restrictive pieces of legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in 2002, all of which contradict human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe. These two pieces of legislation were among the most significant assaults on the basic fundamental freedoms especially, the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom of expression and were used as repressive tools against human rights defenders.

As a result, the situation lead to the international community expressing its deepest preoccupation. For example, the country was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002 following the grave breaches observed during the presidential elections, and the European Union adopted a package of sanctions in February 2002, including travel ban in the EU territory for Zimbabwean Ministers and Officials, as well as an arms embargo. The European parliament adopted four resolutions on Zimbabwe and the Council of the EU made a Declaration in December, following the arrest of trade unionists. However the UN Commission on Human Rights did not adopt any resolution on Zimbabwe in 2002, nor did the Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights of the African Union.

Very much alarmed by the increasing violations of the rights of human rights defenders in this context, ZimRights, supported by the Observatory, decided to publish the present report. The rights of human rights defenders and associations are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe - in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights -, as well as by the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders2 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1998. Particular attention will be brought to this last Declaration in the present report.


1 See press release of the FIDH, ZimRights and Solagral (a French NGO on food security issues), on 17 December 2002

2 Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to promote and Protect Universally Recognized human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

(in pdf* format - 390.22 KB)

International Federation for Human Rights
17, Passage de la Main d'Or
75 011 Paris, France / Tel : +33 1 43 55 25 18

World Organisation Against Torture
Case postale 21 - 8 rue du Vieux-Billard
1211 Genève 8, Suisse / OMCT : +4122 809 49 39