It is now three months since Itai Dzamara was abducted by suspected state agents on March 9 2015.
Dzamara, a journalist, human rights activist and leader of Occupy Africa Unity Square, had been leading a number of protests against the government in Zimbabwe since October 17 2014 when he personally, together with Tichaona Danho, delivered a petition to President Robert Mugabe’s Offices at Munhumutapa Building in Harare.
Since then, Dzamara had confronted the Harare administration with a very powerful message of peace and change. Sadly, men of violence usually find peace and change threatening.
Besides being a journalist and a human rights activist, Dzamara is also a father and a husband. His wife, Sheffra Dzamara, his son Nokutenda and his daughter Nenyasha, have since March 9 2015 been waiting for the return of Dzamara. It is undoubtedly a terrible time for the young family, and surely the abductors of Dzamara are people of such a cold heart.
In the declaration on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, (A/RES/47/133) the United Nations General Assembly emphasises that enforced disappearance undermines the deepest values of any society committed to respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that the systematic practice of such acts is of the nature of a crime against humanity.
The crime of abduction/enforced disappearance is a very serious violation of human rights because it bundles more than one violation in that single act. It violates the dignity of the person and subjects him to potential assaults, torture and threatens the very life of the person. It further goes on to punish the family and put the children and spouse under severe psychological trauma. They live in fear and uncertainty.
And in all this, the state and its agents are accountable because it has a duty under domestic and international law to protect human life and to conduct an effective investigation aimed at clarifying the whereabouts of the missing person. As long as the state has not fulfilled this obligation, and the person is still missing, that constitutes continued violation of the victim’s rights and an abdication of the state’s procedural obligation to protect the right to life.
This is a violation that goes to the heart of the family unit that is protected by Article 18 of the African Charter on Human Peoples’ Rights. The African Charter states, “The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society. It shall be protected by the State that shall take care of its physical and moral health.” The government of Zimbabwe, and the chairperson of the African Union must be reminded that as long as Dzamara continues to be missing, the state continues to be actively violating the African Charter.
The act is also a violation of the children’s rights as enshrined in section 81 of our Constitution and engraved on the conscience of our humanity. The president is a family man who recently celebrated the marriage of his daughter Bona whom, we have no doubt, he loves so much. The same can be said of most leaders in our government.
Dzamara too has a family, and by the operation of the state, his family has been attacked at the core. His children Nenyasha and Nokutenda have been robbed of their rights to parental care and family life. Dzamara’s wife, Sheffra, does not know if she is a widow or not. She is consumed with the desire to know the whereabouts of her husband. She is deprived of the right to the truth and access to justice and remedy. She desires a return to normalcy, when she can sit and have dinner at the family table with her husband and children. To achieve this, she has sought help from friends. They have come together to hold vigils to pray for her husband’s safe return. Her lawyers have approached the courts but the state has showed total disregard of the order of the High Court to find Sheffra’s husband and bring him home. The family continues to live in fear and despair.
John Paul II said, “Whatever threatens the family, threatens humanity.”
The depth of human rights violations against the family must be well understood by all. The threats in our midst must never be underestimated. Our calls for justice for Dzamara, his wife and his children must be understood clearly. We many times get too used to evil, and it begins to look too familiar. Our calls for justice get drowned by time.
Let this not be the case when our families are threatened because of our commitment to human dignity. We must understand that when we start getting used to tolerating the evil that goes to attack the heart of humanity, we are on the verge of an atrocity, another Gukurahundi. The family is the heart of humankind, and the state or anyone must not be allowed to get away with any such crimes against humanity.
It is because of love that we must make this call even louder. Real power is not how we stand up to the strong and the powerful, for many have done that for selfish reasons. Real power is how we bent down to embrace the weak, the vulnerable, the frightened and uplift them and restore their hope that someone does care. We all care when humanity is threatened. We all care and raise alarm when the scourge of HIV and Aids leaves many orphans. We all have to care when fellow human beings attack families and leave children orphaned. We have to care the more when such acts are perpetrated by or with the blessings and tolerance of the state.
We continue to stand with Dzamara’s wife and children and instruct the state to stop attacking our families. In the words of the Blessed Archbishop Romero, we urge our leaders, who most of them are family people and claim to be Christian, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the repression and violations of human rights. We urge them to obey the court order, investigate and Bring Back Itai Dzamara to his wife and children.
Dzikamai Bere is a human rights researcher who works for a local human rights group. He writes in his personal capacity. For feedback, write to firstname.lastname@example.org