Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth principles: Compliance or disregard?

Executive Summary

The report examines obligations upon the Government of Zimbabwe arising from the Abuja Agreement on Zimbabwe, signed in Abuja, Nigeria on 6 September 2001. It examines commitment by the Zimbabwe Government to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration and its compliance with the recommendations of the Marlborough House Statement and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement. It is published two years following the signing of the Abuja Agreement and three months before the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting in Nigeria in December 2003 and is intended to provide some clarification with regard to the Zimbabwean crisis and its causes.

The report notes that high levels of human rights violations continue to prevail, some of them consequent on laws such as the Public Order and Security Act. This has been accompanied by the establishment of a culture of impunity presided over by a seemingly partisan police force. State agents have been frequently reported as being perpetrators of human rights violations themselves. There has been continued inter-party violence as a result of political intolerance. Victimisation on the basis of political affiliation remains a common phenomenon.

Elections have, since the Parliamentary Elections in June 2000, been accompanied by organised violence and intimidation. The electorate's freedom of choice in electing representatives in all these elections has been heavily constrained by victimisation of potential voters on the basis of their political affiliation. There have been reports of supplying food in exchange for votes and the use of retributive force where voters are deemed not to have voted in the expected manner.

The two main political parties in the country have failed to engage in any meaningful dialogue aimed at addressing the Zimbabwe crisis and the political impasse between them as recommended by the Commonwealth. Previous and current Commonwealth, regional and local initiatives to mediate in the process have apparently been met with disdain. The two parties have yet to resume talks since the breakdown of the Commonwealth-led initiative in May 2002, although there have been deliberations by both parties on the conditions for resumption of talks and the nature that these negotiations would assume.

The majority of evidence seems to indicate that the Zimbabwe Government has failed to abide by Commonwealth Principles enshrined in the Harare Declaration, the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration, the Abuja Agreement itself and subsequent communiqués in the form of the Marlborough House Statement on Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement.

Purpose of the report

This report serves as a follow up to its two predecessors Complying with the Abuja Agreement and Complying with the Abuja Agreement: A Two Months Report both published at the end of 2001 following the signing of the Abuja Agreement. The report examines obligations imposed upon the Government of Zimbabwe arising from the Abuja Agreement in the context of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration. The report further attempts to present the facts for consideration in determining whether the Abuja Agreement was ever implemented with any degree of determination or whether it was a mere agreement on paper and for the most part was regarded with apathy by Government. In order to achieve this, the report will provide an overview of events during the two-year period from September 2001, the month in which the Abuja Agreement was brokered, until the present. The report will also examine compliance with the recommendations of the Marlborough House Statement and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum believes that the commitment, or lack thereof, of the Zimbabwe Government to Commonwealth principles and past Commonwealth initiatives to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis should determine whether or not there is a need for stronger measures to be taken against the Zimbabwe Government. It is in this light that a report of this nature is considered necessary. It is published two years following the signing of the Abuja Agreement and three months before the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting in Nigeria and is intended to provide some clarification with regards to the Zimbabwean crisis and its causes.

The report focuses on the shortcomings of the Government of Zimbabwe in its commitment to Commonwealth principles, agreements and communiqués. The focus is on Government's and the ruling party's failings as, while the MDC may have also displayed some disregard for Commonwealth principles, it is the Government that signed the Abuja Agreement and it is with the Government that the obligation to abide by the principles of the associations and international agreements, to which it is party, rests.

Overview

The Government of Zimbabwe has often asserted that the economic, social and political problems currently plaguing the country are rooted in the inequitable distribution of land. The Government further claims that the reason that attempts to address these problems have attracted an unprecedented amount of regional and international attention is that the Government's land reform program has been viewed unfavourably by Britain and its fellow Western nations, white farmers in Zimbabwe and the opposition political party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is perceived as an extension of these white interests. It is however the Human Rights Forum's contention that while the issue of land has always been and is a very critical issue requiring urgent attention, it is debatable as to whether the land issue is at the core of the current Zimbabwean crisis or whether it is in fact a crisis arising out of misgovernance, mismanagement of the economy and a political struggle to retain power; all masqueraded as a campaign for land reform.

"Land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern to the Commonwealth, such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy and the economy. A programme of land reform is, therefore, crucial to the resolution of the problem." The Abuja Agreement indicated land as being at the core of the Zimbabwe crisis. It however went on to stress that to consider misgovernance, human rights violations, decline of democracy, unsustainable social and economic development as peripheral matters to the land issue is clearly not within the spirit of the Commonwealth as espoused in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration.

While the land issue has been used to divert attention away from economic decline and a general onslaught on civil and political rights, these factors are not causally linked with the need to redress land imbalances. The consequence of the crisis on the enjoyment of economic and social rights has also been severe. The economic crisis has shrouded Zimbabwe since late 1997 predating the start of the Fast Track Land Reform Program by at least two years. The high levels of political violence commonly reported throughout the country, since March 2000, by no means have their root in the need for land reform but conversely were closely associated with elections and mass demonstrations.

Since the signing of the Abuja Agreement violence on commercial farms has scaled down. However, the massive displacement of commercial farm workers is ongoing although it has received little Government attention. Farm workers continue to be victims of gross human rights violations. Additionally, there has certainly been no significant reduction in the prevalence of gross human rights abuses generally. Politically motivated violence has continued countrywide and there does not appear to be any sincere efforts by the Government to guarantee "the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes".

The violation of basic human freedoms in the past two years, predominantly through political violence, is in violation of the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth principles. The Zimbabwe Government has failed to take firm action against violence and intimidation as it had pledged. High levels of inter-party political violence have been recorded throughout the period from the signing of the Abuja Agreement to date. Such violence, while prevailing throughout, has intensified at times of elections having an inherent effect of constraining the electorate's ability to exercise the right to vote without fear. Gross human rights violations perpetrated by some uniformed state agents also continue to be reported. These violations appear to be taking place with Government acquiescence and are being carried out by a seemingly partisan police force.

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