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Forum Activity – Annual Report 2005 | Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

Forum Activity – Annual Report 2005

The Environment in 2005

A culture of violence continued to develop in Zimbabwe, which escalates during elections, peaceful demonstrations by civil society and stay-aways. The violence is mainly inflicted on persons who hold differing political views from the ruling party and is in breach of section 21 of the Constitution which states that “no person shall be hindered in his freedom of assembly and association”… “and in particular to form or belong to political parties”

An analysis of incidences reported to the Forum for 2005 shows that in terms of the frequency of all violations, 2005 was the worst year since the Forum began publishing annual reports in July 2001. While the trend towards declining rates of torture observed in 2004 continued in 2005, in both years torture and assault increased in the months in which there were elections, as previously indicated. Displacements, unlawful arrests and detentions increased markedly in 2005.

This was aggravated by Operation Murambatsvina where 700,000 people in the informal sector in urban areas lost their dwelling and income through Government’s “Clean up the filth”. In all, 4 200 violations were recorded in the year in question in categories which ranged from assault to unlawful detention.

There was little indication in the year that the Zimbabwean government was taking its responsibilities under the Constitution and its international obligations seriously.

While encouraging remarks were made by the President and Commissioner of Police, at the General Election in 2005 that there would be zero tolerance of violence, numerous instances of retributive violence were reported in the April Political Violence Report of the Forum.

Inter and intra-party violence increased in 2005, highlighting the political intolerance prevailing in Zimbabwe.

In May 2005, Operation Murambatsvina (Clean up the Filth) was imposed on so-called illegal urban settlements causing wide-spread destabilization of approximately 700,000 families and impacting on a further 2,500,000 people. The justification of the state for this “disastrous venture”[1] was to regularize informal trading, clean-up illegal urban settlements, stop illegal dealing in foreign currency. A report by Ms A Tibaijuka, UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement recorded that the operation had been carried out in “an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering and in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks”. The Secretary General of the UN himself declared the operation to be a “catastrophic injustice”. The mission was significant in that the crisis in Zimbabwe was finally recognized by the UN.

None of the 12 recommendations in the Report had been addressed by the State by the end of the year and attempts to provide housing for displaced persons under Operation Garikai were largely ineffective with some of the houses being allocated to party faithful, police and army personnel.

In September 2005, Constitutional Amendment No 17 was passed in Parliament, which ousted the jurisdiction of the courts to consider cases whereby land had been acquired by the state and eroded the constitutional right to freedom of movement for persons not considered to be supporting the national interest of the state.

Passports were in-fact removed from three high-profile Zimbabweans but were returned when an urgent High Court application was made and the office of the Attorney General pointed out that the enabling legislation had not been put in place.

The external environment in which the Forum operated in 2005 continued to militate against the achievement of its desired result.

The polarized political environment remained in place and the opposition MDC, which had shown such promising indications in the previous years, split into two factions – pro and anti senate. The establishment of the Senate itself was considered by the public in general to be a profligate waste of financial resources and a refuge for unsuccessful ZANU (PF) candidates. NGOs continued to be regarded with hostility by the State, which dismissed them as agents of the opposition and western countries. While the President declined to assent to the NGO Bill in December 2004, civil society had been negatively affected by its possible consequences.

The economy continued to collapse; shortages of basic commodities became chronic; widespread poverty and hunger persisted as did high inflation and unemployment. This was aggravated by the HIV/Aids pandemic, which contributed to a drop in life expectancy to 37 years for males and 34 for females.

The courts, once hailed for their independence, continued to become politicized, inefficient and selective in their application of the law.

The end of 2005 saw a nation of cowed, dispirited and depressed people as they moved into 2006 in the hope that their circumstances would improve.

The Public Interest Unit

The specific objective of this Unit is “to contribute towards the reduction of organized violence and torture, perpetrated against the person and property of individuals, though the provision of legal aid”. To this end, the strategies adopted in the Unit to address the objective were litigation, lobbying, research and advocacy.

Domestic litigation continued successfully with many cases being settled out of court with those that proceeded to trial having judgments in favour of the applicants indicating that the state had accepted liability in the commission of the particular human rights violations. A consolidated index for the year indicated that 227 persons were being assisted by the Unit.

The Unit strove to provide timeous legal assistance and representation to applicants, making compensatory claims on their behalf against the perpetrators of organized violence and torture, primarily, although not exclusively, the police and the Army.

Litigation at international level focused on following the Communications previously lodged with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). A positive result was received on Communication 245/02 (relating to the level of organized violence and torture in Zimbabwe up to that date). Communication 295/04 (pertaining to politically motivated murders) was deemed admissible by the ACHPR at the 38th Ordinary Session in November 2005 and preparation commenced for the arguments on merits for submission to the 39th Ordinary Session in May 2006.

Funding was sought to enable a database to be set up in the Unit whereby information can be readily extracted giving all detail of the victims, the perpetrator, the nature and location of the violation etc. This will enhance the capacity of the Unit to produce quality reports in selected areas of interest.

Legal practitioners in the Unit participate in the Human Rights Defenders Project under the network of the Forum backing up their colleagues in the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in providing emergency legal assistance to human rights defenders on their arrest. Deployment of legal practitioners is done by the ZLHR with the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) administering the funds. The scheme was set up to assist;

“any person who actively champions the promotion and protection of any of the Constitutionally guaranteed rights and in the process becomes the subject of attack by any organized group, including but not exclusively state agents and other functionaries”.

Arrests of human rights occur mainly following peaceful protests or demonstrations by members of civil society protesting against the parless state of the economy, for a new constitution and even on Valentine’s Day, as was the case in 2005.

The police invoke the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Codification and Reform Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to harass, arrest and invariably assault protestors, incarcerate them in filthy holding cells, seldom following through with prosecutions.

The ZLHR recorded 547 arrests of human rights defenders in 2005.

Research and Documentation Unit

The specific objective of the Unit is “to document, research on, verify and publish incidents of gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe, particularly those associated with organized violence and torture”

In the achievement of the objective the Unit pursued its effective and wide-reaching dissemination of accurate information to its target groups, striving to collect data timeously, although this was not always achieved due to constraints experienced by the source-providers, including some of the members of the Forum.

Compilation and updating of the database of incidents of both political and non-political violence continued. The database provides statistical background and information primarily for the monthly Political Violence Reports of which twelve were produced in the year with the December 2005 Report providing an important comparative analysis with 2004.

The Forum relies on its members and partner organizations to feed in information for its Political Violence Reports and notes that the Reports cannot therefore be considered as the exhaustive record of all incidents of political violence in Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, of the 4 200 incidents reported in 2005, 1 036 violations against freedom of expression and association were recorded; 658 and 628 of unlawful arrest and unlawful detention respectively; 609 of displacement and 488 of political discrimination, victimization and intimidation.

Information from the database of the Unit was supplied on request to diplomatic missions, some lawyers acting for asylum-seekers and interested individuals on request.

Reader-friendly Bulletins, in English, Shona and Ndebele were produced under the titles “Housing Rights in Zimbabwe” and “The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights” in two parts. Reports were issued by the Forum as follows;

  • “It’s the Count that Counts: Food for Thought: Reviewing the Pre-election Period in Zimbabwe” – March 2005
  • “Of Stuffed Ballots and Empty Stomachs: Reviewing Zimbabwes’ 2005 Parliamentary Elections and Post-Election Period” – July 2005
  • Order out of Chaos or Chaos out of Order? A Preliminarily Report on Operation Murambatsvina” – June 2005
  • “The Aftermath of a Disastrous Venture: A follow-up report on Operation Murambatsvina” – August 2005
  • “Facts and Fictions: An Audit of the Recommendations of the Fact-finding Mission of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights” – November 2005

This last Report was tabled at the 38th Ordinary Session of the African Commission in November 2005 and received wide attention.

Lobbying and Advocacy

This continued unabated in 2005 both from the headquarters of the Forum in Harare and the International Liaison Office in London. Reports were lobbied to the 950 addresses from Harare and 1200 from London and posted on the Forum’s website.

Delegations attended the 37th and 38th Ordinary Sessions of the ACHPR and the NGO Forum meeting of approximately 150 representatives of African NGOs which precede these sessions, taking the opportunity to report on the deteriorating condition of human rights in Zimbabwe. Likewise, the Forum was represented at two Joint Parliamentary Assemblies of the ACP/EU and the SADC Summit.

A submission was made to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 17) Bill, 2005.

Advertorials were placed in the local media to commemorate the UN International Day Against Torture on 26 June 2005 and Human Rights Day, 10 December 2005.

On the initiative of Amnesty International, the Forum was the on-the-ground NGO to garner support from local NGOs for an open letter to the Zimbabwe President on the state of human rights in the country to coincide with the International Day Against Torture. Amnesty International replicated this in South Africa and Nigeria with local NGOs.

The Board

The Board continued to meet monthly. Comprising a senior representative of all members of the Forum, their names of the members are listed as an appendix. Appreciation is expressed to members who contribute so tirelessly to the affairs of the Forum.

In December 2005, Mr Noel Kututwa was elected Acting-Chair of the Board to replace Mr Albert Musarurwa who had resigned from the LRF and to whom appreciation is also expressed for his contribution to the Forum during his tenancy as Chairman.

Staff

During 2005 both the Public Interest Unit and the Research Unit operated short-staffed. In both cases this was due to staff being on study leave. This is in line with the Forum’s commitment to encourage and support staff-development. Staff concerned completed a Masters Degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa at the University of Pretoria, a short-term Transitional Justice Fellowship at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town and entrance to an LLM in Human Rights Law at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The calibre of the staff is measured by the output of an organization and it is with pride that the Forum pays tribute to the staff for their fortitude, courage and general efficiency in reaching the target; this despite the negative political and economic environment in Zimbabwe in 2005.

International Liaison Office

Summary

2005 was a very active year internationally for International Liaison Office (IntLO) of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum).

During 2005 the Forum managed to expand its activities with the African Union beyond the ACHPR through participation in the AU Summit in Abuja, Nigeria in January and in the inaugural session of the Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March.

Background

The International Liaison Office (IntLO) of the Forum was formed in January 2002 following an initiative by one of the Forum’s member organizations; Amani Trust, and their international partner; Redress. From late 2002, Article 19 took over as the Forum’s UK based partner organization. During 2005, as a result of the political climate in Zimbabwe, work was completed to set up IntLO as an independent company in the UK. The company; Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum International was formally registered on 21 January 2006.

The Forum identified three specific objectives for its International Liaison Office for 2005;

  1. to provide security and a relocation possibility in the scenario where operations within Zimbabwe become impossible or problematic;
  2. to be an outlet for the release of reports that cannot safely be released in Zimbabwe;
  3. to co-ordinate the international lobbying work of the Forum.

Core Liaison Activities

The main international liaison work is distribution of information through email. This entails distribution of reports and statements from the Forum’s research unit, as well as from the member organization and other statements relevant to the situation in the country. IntLO maintains an email address list of persons and organizations who receive reports regularly. At the end of the year there were 848 addresses on the list. During the year efforts were made to be more targeted in identifying and adding institutions and persons who have influence over the situation in Zimbabwe. The address list at the end of the year included around 120 government officials and other decision makers, around 350 NGO addresses, just under 100 journalists and around 260 others including Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. During 2005, 21 mailings were sent to the addresses on the list. These mailings included 15 of the Forum’s reports or statements, 50 member organization reports or statements and 57 reports or statements from other sources of relevance to the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

International, regional and other non-governmental organizations have been identified as main partners for IntLO in lobbying governments and intergovernmental organizations. During 2005 IntLO continued to host a network of “Zimbabwe desk officers” of the international organizations that work on or in Zimbabwe. This group met 11 times during the year the IntLO offices.

African Union (AU), including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)

The most significant achievement during the year was the resolution on Zimbabwe passed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) at the 38th Session in November 2005. Following more than three years of lobbying by the Forum and others the ACHPR finally passed a resolution condemning the human rights violations in Zimbabwe, particularly the suffering caused by Operation Murambatsvina. During the NGO Forum ahead of the 38th Session a joint lobby meeting with Amnesty International and other organizations was held, which pointed the participants, including five ACHPR Commissioners, to the importance of passing a resolution on Zimbabwe.

However, the ACHPR was stalling on Communication 245/02 which the Forum submitted in the late 2001.

Negotiations for visits from Special Rapporteurs continued during 2005, however no visits took place during the year. At the 37th Session in Banjul in May the Government committed orally to issuing invitations for all Commissioners who wanted to visit the country, and at the same time announced a bid for hosting the 38th Session in Harare in November 2005. Plans were made for visits by Special Rapporteurs in June.

In August, (shortly after the AU Summit in Sitre, Libya) the Zimbabwean Government wrote to the ACHPR informing them that the invitations for the Special Rapporteurs had been withdrawn and that the Government was no longer in a position to host the next Session.

A civil society conference was organized ahead of the AU Summit in Abuja in January to which the Forum sent 3 participants, 2 of whom ended up as rapporteurs for 2 of the 4 working groups which preceded the launch of the AU civil society body ECOSOCC. The representatives of this conference were given accreditation to observe the AU Summit and related meetings. The AU Summit’s most important decision was the endorsement of the June 2002 ACHPR Fact Finding Mission to Zimbabwe, adopted originally by the ACHPR in 2004.

The SADC Summit was held in August in Gaborone, Botswana. For the first time, SADC Civil Society organized a meeting in conjunction with the main Summit. This meeting produced strong statements on Zimbabwe, but none of those or any of the other decisions were admitted onto the agenda of the SADC Summit. Neither were any of the Civil Society participants granted access to the Summit.

The Forum continued to lobby for a resolution on Zimbabwe with the UN Human Rights Commission but without any success. At the 61st Session of the UNHRC the resolution was as in previous years stopped by a no action motion, driven mainly by the Africa block.

However, there was continued success in targeting the thematic procedures of the UNHRC, with Zimbabwe cases being raised by all the main mechanisms in their reports to the HRC. The issue of visits to Zimbabwe was discussed with several of these mechanisms, in particular the Special Rapporteur of Torture, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Women and the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. However, none of them were able to secure invitations from the Government during the year.

Similar failure was recorded at the General Assembly. A delegation was sent to New York to lobby at the GA’s 3rd Committee. However, the resolution proposal was stopped before reaching a vote. Given the strong report from the Tibaijuka led mission to the country this was particularly disappointing.

European Union

The work with the European Union took low key in 2005, since the EU positions on Zimbabwe were largely consistent with the Forum’s positions. Effort therefore focused on maintaining presence at events in which EU meets African counterparts rather than lobbying on specific items. This included participation at the Joint Parliamentary Assemblies of the African Caribbean Pacific countries and the European Union (JPA)

Visits to the Presidency countries of the EU and cooperation with relevant institutions in the presidency countries ahead of international meetings, in particular UN meetings were carried out during the year.

Other International Direct Lobbying /Representation

The Forum was invited to attend the 2nd Commonwealth Human Rights Forum in Valetta, Malta in November 2005 by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a long term Forum partner. CHRI wanted to include a focus on Zimbabwe which it hoped would influence the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting arranged at the same time. The Communiqueَ of the Human Rights Forum had a strong reference to Zimbabwe, and the Commonwealth Secretary General was challenged on the non-position of the Commonwealth after Zimbabwe’s withdrawal during his press conference.

Co-operation was established with the World Movement for Democracy during 2005, through a Zimbabwean board member of the Youth Movement for Democracy, which led to the Forum’s participation in the first conference of the Africa Democracy Forum in Conakry, Guinea in December.

Support to Local Initiatives

IntLO, through the nature of its work, is getting a lot of international exposure. This leads to an increase in interest on Zimbabwe and more invitations to international events.

The major challenge is to ensure that this experience and exposure also benefits the organizations on the ground. During 2005, IntLO has also been able to fund participation of member organizations to events which have been difficult for them to fund from their own resources, funding facilitated from IntLO’s own budget as well as through funded invitations.

Feedback meetings to the member organizations are held when the coordinator visits Zimbabwe, including thrice during 2005, in February, June and October. On each occasion member organizations were updated on IntLO’s activities during the board meetings. During 2005 16 of 17 member organizations were visited at their headquarters by the coordinator. During his visits to Zimbabwe the coordinator also holds briefings for participants attending international meetings.

During visits to Zimbabwe the coordinator also tries to visit the provinces in addition to Harare. In 2005 only Masvingo was visited (during October).

The International Day in Support of Torture Victims is marked around the world on 26 June. IntLO has since its inception in 2002 organised activities in London on this day with other international NGOs, British NGOs and UK based organizations for Zimbabweans to support torture victims in and from Zimbabwe. In 2005 a church service was held in St. Paul’s Church with very good attendance. For the first time the event was covered by national television (ITV News, 8 pm and 10.30 pm) The main speaker, was Lovemore Madhuku of the NCA.

Resources

IntLO has in 2005 for the first year had full and timely funding of its activities, which is clearly reflected in this annual report, which records a notable increase in activities compared to 2004 and the years before.

During the year the office has been staffed by a coordinator and an administrator. Towards the end of the year a part time post for a financial officer was created.

IntLO’s offices are in Development House, a building for NGOs in London which adequately meets with the needs of the organization. During June IntLO moved to bigger offices within the building.

Conclusion

While the threat of the NGO Bill still continued to impact negatively on civil society in the first part of 2005, it appeared that the state would instead use existing legislation to control civil society, including the sinister Constitutional Amendment (No 17) Bill, the continued use of the Public Order and Security Act, the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Acts etc.

The meltdown of the economy and hyper-inflation have negatively-effected the operations of the Forum and the morale of the staff. It has become almost impossible to budget with accuracy. Equally, the negative political and economic environment has increased political tension and human rights violations. The suspicion with which NGOs are viewed by the state creates its own problems and inhibits transparent dialogue between the state and civil society. Through all this, the role of NGOs remains important and it is the declared intention of the Forum to provide services to its target group as efficiently and effectively as possible in contributing to the eradication of organized violence and torture in Zimbabwe. In this respect, the Forum pays tribute to its donors without whose support it could not continue to operate.

The support provided by the International Liaison Office, described above, is invaluable in the achievement of the overall objectives of the Forum.

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.