Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has been and continues to monitor developments relating to the clampdown on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) with increasing concern.
An analysis of the trends indicates a sustained and escalating assault on NGOs involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision – all of which are lawful activities and noble endeavours. Methods of attack include character assassination through the partisan and state-controlled media, disruption of lawful activities and meetings, violent disruption of peaceful protests, and invasion of organisational premises through the use of vague and generalised search warrants as well as suspicious break-ins and theft. All such cases in which ZLHR has provided legal support services have been targeted at organisations that are lawfully operating in Zimbabwe.
Regional and international norms and standards, to which Zimbabwe has bound itself through the African Union and the United Nations, clearly protect the rights of HRDs to associate, organise and carry out peaceful activities, and the right of human rights organisations to exist and be protected by law. Such rights are further enshrined in the Constitution and laws of Zimbabwe.
Organisations have, nevertheless, continued to provide their essential services despite the difficult and often life-threatening circumstances. This they do because the government has limited and sometimes no capacity to respect and fulfill even its most basic obligations to citizens. There has been a resounding silence by the politicians who appear to be more preoccupied with their electoral campaigns and power retention at the expense of undertakings laid out clearly in the Global Political Agreement – undertakings which continue to be broken, discarded and arrogantly ignored.
Responsibility for the current crackdown lies squarely and fully on the three political parties that form the inclusive government. They have been either powerless to stop the attacks, directly or indirectly involved in the coordination and implementation of the attacks, or simply unconcerned with the challenges faced by those outside their ivory towers. Should further harm befall those within the civic sector as a result of such ongoing and future attacks, it is these three political parties that we will hold responsible.
ZLHR calls for sanity to prevail, a reduction of the hysteria and paranoia currently characterising the state and its institutions and actors, an immediate cessation of the attacks against NGOs and HRDs, and an opening of the space to allow for the civil society to continue with their critical activities. Failure of this inclusive government to come to its senses will paint – and is already painting – a negative picture of the pre-election environment, and will be recorded accordingly for those in the region and further afield to take note.