WASHINGTON DC — The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights says the electoral environment in Zimbabwe has been “severely compromised” due to a lack of compliance with the Global Political Agreement, as well as increased systematic intimidation, threats, violence and arbitrary detention of human rights activists and civil society leaders.
In a statement after a high-powered delegation of human rights activists, civil society and community leaders concluded a week-long visit to the country, the RFK Center says the international community and Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders should engage the inclusive government and civil society to stop the degenerating situation.
It says the engagement will be designed to expedite the implementation of agreed GPA reforms and actively cultivate an electoral environment that is consistent with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
“Though the agreement was signed over four years ago, the necessary reforms that were expected to address a host of pressing institutional and human rights issues have either not been introduced or are not being implemented,” said the RFK Center.
It says: “The president continues to command an unchecked monopoly on the military and security forces. In addition, amendments to repressive laws have stalled with little change of reforms before elections.”
Some of the most feared intact laws include the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, and Private Voluntary Organization Act (PVO), which places onerous registration requirements on Non-Governmental Organizations.
“The RFK Center considers the pattern of intimidation, violence and detention of ordinary employees of civil society organizations and human rights leaders to be a serious obstacle that undermines the current electoral process.”
It says some of organizations that have been targeted are Women of Zimbabwe Arise, the National Youth Development Trust, Counselling Services Unit, Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, Zimbabwe Peace project, Zimbabwe Human rights Association and Radio Dialogue.
The RFK Center also cites as “very worrisome”, the arrest of prominent lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, accused of allegedly attempting to defeat the course of justice after she tried to block the arrest of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s staffers. They were accused of illegally investigating some state officials allegedly to be involved in shady deals.
RFK Partners for Human Rights director, Santiago A. Canton, is quoted in the statement as saying: “The fact that the police are targeting these vital and necessary organizations in the months leading up to the elections should be of international concern. This systematic assault must cease immediately so as to guarantee the active participation of civil society organizations during this critical point in time.”
The RFK Center also notes that the violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information are an ongoing and grave concern in Zimbabwe.
Last month, the Zimbabwe Republic Police “banned” shortwave radios, prompting raids on private homes and community radio stations like Radio Dialogue, which is working to raise levels of civic and political awareness in the lead up to elections.
Radio Dialogue was accused of “smuggling illegal goods” and for allegedly using radios to incite violence and disseminate propaganda. The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) was also raided by armed police, who confiscated a number of solar-powered, handheld radios and other office equipment, stating that ZPP was engaging in “espionage” and “activities that threatened national security.”
“Together, broad-based civic organizations, youth groups, and independent media, including community radio stations, are necessary to cultivate a democratic conscience and instill democratic values throughout the world. It is reprehensible and highly unfortunate that authorities in Zimbabwe are actively working to counteract this necessary building block for long-term, genuine democracy,” says RFK Center President Kerry Kennedy.
The RFK Center is profoundly concerned about the systematic repression of civil society in violation of its international human rights obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). “The pattern of suppression, including the criminalization of human rights defenders, represents clear violations of the rights to freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and imperils the rights of all Zimbabweans to participate freely in the governance of their country”.
The RFK Center says it recognizes the significant advances made towards the protection of human rights in Zimbabwe’s new constitution. It says a progressive Bill of Rights that accurately reflects international consensus on the importance of both protecting and promoting human rights – from political to socio-economic and the right to development – is particularly encouraging and most welcome.
The delegation organized by the RFK Center comprised Kerry Kennedy (United States), President, RFK Center; Santiago A. Canton (Argentina), Director, RFK Partners for Human Rights; Alfre Woodard (United States), actor and activist; Maureen White (United States), former Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues in the Office of the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Jorge Taiana (Argentina), Director General of the International Centre for Political Studies at the San Martin University in Argentina and former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Scott and Christy Wallace (United States), Co-Chairs, Wallace Global Fund; Jeffrey Smith (United States), Advocacy Officer, RFK Center; and Stephanie Postar (United States), Advocacy Assistant, RFK Center.