Commemorating International Women’s Day

2007 marks the 30th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution inviting member states to observe a UN day for women’s rights and international peace – 8 March. This year the Human Rights Forum joins the whole world and all progressive women in Zimbabwe in celebrating the United Nations International Women’s Day whose theme is Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls. We understand the term impunity as a concept wherein those that perpetrate human rights abuses are not held to account or are somehow held to be ‘above the law’.

Women’s Rights and Zimbabwe’s International Obligations

Women and girls’ rights to be free from violence are enshrined in various human rights treaties. Under these treaties, some of the rights to which women and girls are entitled include: life, liberty and security of person; freedom form torture and cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment. In line with its international obligations, Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1991. Zimbabwe is also party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which in article 18 calls on all member states to ensure the protection of the rights of women in Africa. The Human Rights Forum commends the government of Zimbabwe for signing the Domestic Violence Bill into law although the Human Rights Forum is concerned that the law does not specifically protect women against politically motivated gender violence. Zimbabwe has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which gives individuals the right to take complaints to the United Nations. Moreover, Zimbabwe has signed and not yet ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, which supplements and gives effect to the provisions protecting women’s rights in the African Charter.

Political Participation

Political participation of women in decision – making and governance is an important human rights issue. Women have the right to participate fully at all levels of political, civic and community life. The 1997 SADC Gender and Development Declaration, to which Zimbabwe is signatory, upholds the status of women making posts in politics and the public service and sets a target of 50% for full participation by women by 2015. Out of Zimbabwe’s 150 Parliamentarians, only 24 are women. In the revived Senate there are 22 out of 66 women. Of the 53 Ministers in Government only 4 are women. Of Zimbabwe’s ten Provincial Governors, only two are women. The Government of Zimbabwe has not ensured the active participation of women in politics.

Politically Motivated Violence Against Women

In the Monthly Political Violence Reports produced by the Human Rights Forum it is evident that over the years various rights affecting women in Zimbabwe have been violated in situations that were politically motivated ranging from sexual torture, the threat of the act of rape itself, assault, torture and freedom of expression and association. The Human Rights Forum has been operating a database wherein information on human rights violations has been collated. In 2001, there were 75 women whose rights were violated in Zimbabwe, 151 in 2002; 217 in 2003; 229 in 2004; 154 in 2005 and 259 in 2006. The incidents of violence were most frequent during the election years of 2000, 2002 and 2005. The coincidence of the frequency of violations over this period suggests a clear correlation with elections, thus supporting what is often overtly stated by the violators, that the gender – based violence is politically motivated. However, 2006 seems to have been the worst year in terms of human rights violations and more particularly politically motivated violations against women.

Impunity

A significant number of perpetrators of human rights violations against women have not been arrested or accounted for, thus raising the fear that they may not be prosecuted or held accountable for the offences. Since the 1998 food riots, the Human Rights Forum has fought legal battles in Zimbabwean and international tribunals against perpetrators of these violations and has won some of the cases. However, the Human Rights Forum notes with sadness the delays in paying compensation to the extent that when the compensation is paid it is not enough to cater for just the bus fare to go and collect it. Furthermore, some of the perpetrators continue to enjoy de facto and de jure impunity through police inaction, non-prosecutions, delayed judgements, amnesties and or pardons, which have effectively frustrated victims’ efforts to seek justice.

In 2000, after a period of excessive violence, the government granted a General Amnesty for politically motivated crimes in the period surrounding the February 2000 Constitutional Referendum and the June 2000 General Elections. Clemency Order No. 1 of October 2000 freed from prosecution perpetrators of politically motivated violence between 1 January and 31 July 2000 and pardoned those who had been already convicted. The Clemency Order excluded crimes such as ‘murder, rape, robbery, indecent assault, statutory rape, theft and possession of arms’. Persons who committed assault, torture, abduction and arson were therefore pardoned. The Clemency Order of 2000 was a breach of the State’s duty to investigate and to guarantee people’s freedom from such acts.

Remedies

Article 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 25(a) of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women obliges states parties to grant an ‘effective remedy’ to victims in a manner that recognises their worth and dignity as human beings. Women victims should therefore have access to justice, compensation and rehabilitation for harm suffered. The Human Rights Forum notes that whilst, monetary compensation in appropriate amounts is certainly a part of this duty, the obligation also includes non – monetary gestures that publicly acknowledge and condemn the harm done to victims, including an official state apology where there were shortcomings and failures on the part of the state in its obligation to protect victims. Compensation available to victims must be adequate, prompt and proportional to the gravity of the violation. Rehabilitation, which includes medical, psychological and other care, should also be part of the remedies. Guarantees of non – repetition should also exist through systematic enforcement of the prohibition against torture and elimination of impunity for all perpetrators. The Human Rights Forum implores the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that all those who have committed human rights violations against women in breach of the Zimbabwe Constitution and international human rights standards and norms, while serving in any capacity in the police, army, CIO or any other uniformed forces or state agencies, should not be allowed to continue serving as members of those agencies.

Of the 298 cases that the Human Rights Forum has taken to court since 1998 on behalf of citizens who have suffered abuse at the hands of the state, 68 involved women. The offences that were brought before the courts mainly consisted of torture, assault and assault (GBH). The Zimbabwe National Army perpetrated 63% of these abuses against women. The Zimbabwe Republic Police and alleged ZANU PF supporters perpetrated the rest. 50% of the cases have been closed and the rest, which have either been settled out of court or by the courts, are still to be paid. The Human Rights Forum takes this opportunity to deplore the serious delay in paying out the agreed sums in the rest of the judgements. Most of the amounts, which were determined at the time, have had their value seriously eroded by inflation.

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.