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Zim faces grilling in Gambia over rights abuses

Augustine Mukaro

THE Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has released a damning report on how government failed to comply with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) recommendations to stop

widespread human rights violations in the country.


The report coincides with the African Commission meeting in Banjul, Gambia, next week, which is expected to discuss the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.


An ACHPR fact-finding mission which visited the country in June 2002 concluded that there was enough evidence of human rights violations in Zimbabwe and that government could not wash its hands of responsibility for all the incidents.


The mission, which was led by the vice-chairperson of the commission, Jainaba Johm, recommended that Zimbabwe engages mediators to resume dialogue, repeal inhibitive legislations, ensure independence of the judiciary, avoid politicisation of the police and promote a climate conducive to freedom of expression.


The ACHPR report was adopted by the African Commission in January this year.


The NGO Forum then undertook an audit of the recommendations to monitor government’s compliance. Its report, titled Facts and Fictions, exposes unwillingness by government and its agencies to comply with the recommendations, especially on national dialogue and reconciliation.


The report says it is manifestly evident that instead of attempting to implement the recommendations of the fact finding mission of June 2002 in order to create an environment conducive to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe, the government has strengthened repressive laws and taken action that has had exactly the opposite effect.


The report says even after publication of the ACHPR report, government has failed to implement recommendations on the independence of the judiciary and enforcement of court rulings.


“There have been five high-profile cases in which various arms of government, including the executive, three ministries, a statutory body, local authorities and the police, have failed to comply with court orders,” the report says.


“This non-compliance reflects a continuing trend by government and state institutions of failing to effect rulings by the judiciary, thus reinforcing the perception of a continuing breakdown of the rule of law, failure to respect the principle of separation of powers, and the impunity of state institutions.”


The five cases include government’s rejection of an Electoral Court ruling nullifying the results of the nomination court for the Chimanimani constituency in which the judge said the presiding officer had unlawfully refused to accept the nomination papers for Roy Bennett. Elections for the constituency were postponed pending fresh nominations, a move which was denounced by President Mugabe.


“The president of Zimbabwe attacked the decision of the court at a public briefing with provincial, government and party leaders at Gaza High School in Chipinge, describing it as “absolute nonsense” and said it should be ignored.


The Forum says government has taken no steps to repeal or amend national laws which are repressive.


“Aippa remains operational and continues to be implemented in a selective manner to stifle the free dissemination of information and free speech within Zimbabwe, especially through the private media,” the report says.


The Constitutional Amendment (No 17) Act passed recently makes wide-ranging intrusions into basic human rights guaranteed under the constitution of Zimbabwe, as well as various international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a state party, it said.


The Forum report comes at a time when government faces a grilling at the African Commission meeting in Gambia next week where civic organisations will present a shadow human rights report exposing rampant and deliberate rights violations perpetrated by government over the past five years.


Zimbabwe, which last presented a human rights report to the commission in 1996, decided to do so again nine years later, in a move civic groups described as a desperate attempt to defuse mounting pressure and growing isolation. The ACHPR requires governments to submit reports to the commission bi-annually.


The government report glosses over critical issues which plunged the country into the current economic morass and fails to acknowledge the current economic recession. It skates around virtually all the negative incidents that the country went through, including the violence that accompanied the land reform programme and all the three elections held over the past five years. The government report is also silent on the widely-condemned Operation Murambatsvina which left over 700 000 people homeless and without sources of livelihood. Government mentions in passing Operation Garikai without giving any background as to why it had to embark on the nationwide housing construction programme.


The civil society audit exposes government’s unwillingness to uphold its primary responsibility to promote, protect and secure human rights.


It highlights numerous challenges that Zimbabwe has faced since the last state report to the commission of 1996, including political and economic instability since 2000, the involvement of state security agents in most of the violent activities since the formation of the opposition MDC and the banning of newspapers.


“Approximately 300 people have died as a result of political and land-invasion related violence and rapes, assaults, kidnappings and torture have occurred throughout the period,” the report says.


The perpetrators of these crimes have been identified mainly as state agents including the army, police and the central intelligence organisation as well as ruling party militia and opposition party supporters.

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