Zimbabwe Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy 2013 Annual Report

The overall aim of this report is to give you both a broad policy picture and a detailed inventory of events relating to human rights, rule of law and democracy that took place in Zimbabwe during 2013. Its particular focus is on rights relating to respect for the integrity of the person, respect for civil liberties, including freedom of speech and press, freedom of association and assembly and respect for political rights; elections and political participation.

It is the product of a great deal of collaborative work involving a consolidation of major reports and statements made throughout 2013 by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (“ZLHR”), VERITAS Trust, Media Monitoring Project for Zimbabwe (“MMPZ”) Zimbabwe Peace Project (“ZPP”), and the Research and Advocacy Unit (“RAU”).

We hope you will find this report as being both informative and useful to your work, the work of human rights organisations but that above all it serves as a genuine and robust record of what transpired during a year of such great consequence in respect of the areas covered. However, we always want to seek ways to improve which is only made possible through your generous feedback,
suggestions and continuous dialogue. Download the Report, 1.7 MB here: Human Rights Rule of Law and Democracy Report2013

Report Summary : Key Findings & Recommendations

Although cases of politically motivated murders, abductions, disappearances, torture and intimidation had been lower than in previous years, the overall situation was still far from perfect. There were ongoing serious human rights abuses, including the selective application of the law, massive corruption and tight control of electronic media. The military loomed large and constantly threatened that they would not accept any transfer of power away from Mr Mugabe’s party, ZANU PF.

Despite a fairly successful constitutional referendum, the elections were seriously flawed.  Both the constitutional referendum and the subsequent elections were preceded and held in an environment, which witnessed an unprecedented clampdown on civil society organizations and human rights defenders including lawyers in private practice. All this implicated the rights related to respect for the integrity of the person, and civil liberties which include the rights to freedom of speech & access to information and assembly and association, which are all fundamental cornerstones in democracy development.

When this is viewed in the wider reform discourse, for example the government’s lack of political will to implement agreed reforms and ZANU-PF’s control and manipulation of the political process; this effectively negated the right of citizens to change their government.

At the close of the year, cases of politically motivated violence and torture continued to be on a downward trajectory. However violations assumed new forms, mainly post election reprisals that included demolitions of houses, threatened evictions, partisan distribution of food aid and agricultural inputs and hate speech.

The end of 2013, also witnessed other positive developments relating to the acquittal of leading human rights defenders and resolution of other long outstanding criminal cases such as the Glen View 29. The reforms of the Attorney General’s office were viewed positively but did not go far as the incumbent retained office. The Human Rights Commission made its first steps towards human rights awareness when it jointly commemorated the international human rights day with civil society organizations.

The food and water insecurity and other social vulnerabilities continued.

This was worsened by the government which continued to pursue economic policies based on exclusion and in some cases overt racism. This all led to closure of businesses, flight of capital and a deepening liquidity crisis.

When viewed in the round, 2013 continued with the institutionalization of a culture of lawlessness ‘jambanja’ that began in 2000. This had a profound effect on lives of ordinary citizens. Finally while human perpetrated violence declined, another major threat to human rights emerged in 2013 as the state used technology to undermine both human rights and democracy. Examples included the inaccessibility of the electronic voters ‘roll and the massive surveillance of political opponents which not only violated their individual rights to privacy but undermined their election strategy and plans.

Overall, like the previous years, 2013 was disappointing as it was characterized by institutional failures and the undermining of rights in ways that ranged from both subtle to devious and cunning. What makes it even more disappointing is that such underhand tactics are now the preferred political strategy and have also rendered most state institutions inaccessible and  unable to deliver on public goods and  lack institutional capacity (both core competencies and attitudes) to arbitrate political and economic contests.

 Specific Findings

 Section 1: Rights relating to respect for the Integrity of the Person

During 2013, cases of politically motivated murders, violence, abductions, disappearances, torture and intimidation had been lower than in previous years. However the overall situation was still far from perfect. There were ongoing serious human rights abuses, including a disappointing lack of policy reforms and the selective application of the law. Although the new constitution guaranteed rights of criminal defendants, criminal procedure laws were not aligned with the constitution; there were overt attacks on the legal profession such as the arrest and detention of Beatrice Mtetwa, despite the separation of the offices of the attorney general and Prosecutor General, the incumbent continued in office. Several political opponents or those perceived to be such were arrested and brought to court where due process safeguards were not guaranteed with trials characterized by several delays calculated to harass defendants. In respect of organized violence, although overt violence was low, cases of institutional intimidation and harassment continued, as well as food related violations and post election reprisals.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The new constitution guarantees civil liberties including freedom of speech, press and media and assembly and association. However there were ongoing serious human rights abuses, including tight control of electronic media and further controls on mobile telephone communications. Such mass surveillance impacted on political opposition’s rights to organize and privacy and had a huge bearing on democracy and privacy. Legislative and institutional reform was not a priority for the government and repressive laws such as POSA and AIPPA continued to be used selectively by unreformed state institutions and actors to prevent constitutional freedoms from being exercised due to lack of political will and failure to censure heavy-handed action whenever it occurred. There were attacks on the media, judges and lawyers, use of repressive laws against targeted civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) and criminalization of free speech.  There were 60 cases in which section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was arbitrarily applied on individuals who were charged with allegedly “insulting or undermining the authority of the President” since 2010.

The 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 endeavor were highlighted by local NGOs. Free protests where quashed and met with disproportionate force. With regard to citizenship rights, a lack of clarity prevailed despite the signing into law of the new constitution which allows dual citizenship and restored citizenship rights to a lot of people who had been disenfranchised.

Section 3. Respect for Political Rights

The old constitution provided citizens with the right to change their government peacefully,

Section 23A of the new constitution under which the 2013 elections were held explicitly provides for the right to vote. Despite the affirmation the right was restricted in practice. The political process continued to be biased heavily in favor of ZANU-PF, which has dominated politics and government and manipulated electoral results since independence in 1980. During the 2013 harmonised elections held on 31 July 2012 there were substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, which rendered the result not to be a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people. The election was reported to be a culmination of a deeply flawed process.There were irregularities in the provision and composition of the voters roll. The political parties had unequal access to state media. The security sector did not safeguard the electoral process on an even-handed basis and the government failed to implement the political reforms mandated by Zimbabwe’s new constitution, the Global Political Agreement, and the region.

Section 4. Open Governance

The government did not demonstrate any commitment towards openness in governance. With regard to corruption, on 16 November, Afrobarometer found that nearly one-third of Africans in 34 countries including Zimbabwe were forced to pay bribes, including for medical treatment. The government lacked accountability and transparency especially in relation to revenue flows. As a demonstration of general lack of revenue transparency, the government did not fully implement the economic management programme agreed with the IMF in June 2013, as a pre-condition for re-engagement. There remained secrecy around diamond mining and revenue. The government was not accountable and neither did it take responsibility for economic decline, and continued misleading the nation on the sanctions issue.

Section 5. Attitudes towards international community

In 2013 Zimbabwe had a very poor record of responding to visit requests by international bodies and there were at least 8 pending visit requests by the UNHRC special mandates. Numerous statements and requests were also issued by international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations such as the UN and the EU for the government to respect its obligations under international law, to which there were no positive responses.

 Section 6: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The new constitution includes economic, social and cultural rights, and specifically for water rights. The state continued to suppress workers’ rights especially the right to picket and organize. Working and living conditions deteriorated substantially with labour unrest.  Government continued to pursue economic policies based on exclusion of other social groups and that threatened direct foreign investment thereby undermining means of livelihoods. Access to water and sanitation remained poor. At the close of the year, the economy was nearing collapse, leading the country into further poverty.


To the Government of Zimbabwe

Generally the government should take concrete steps to fulfill its international legal obligations and commitments relating to economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights as spelt out in various international charters and treaties to which Zimbabwe is party. In order for this to happen, the government should take immediate steps to improve its responsiveness to requests for visits and cooperation by international community and  institutions such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Monetary Fund specially the Staff Monitoring Project and the European Union under various articles of the Cotonou agreement.

The government should also take concrete steps to fulfill the country’s human rights obligations. This include the need to reaffirm the rights provisions in the new constitution, ensure justice and accountability for past abuses, uphold activists’ rights to organize and operate freely without government harassment, and strengthen the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

These specific steps should include, but are not limited to, measures to:

1. Immediately impose an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, and commute all death sentences.

2. Align all laws that are inconsistent with the New Constitution

3. Improve the operating environment for human rights defenders, opposition parties and every person in Zimbabwe to enable them to enjoy their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

4. End forced evictions and ensure the full and effective enjoyment of the right to adequate housing, including pursuing effective remedies for those people affected by the 2005 mass forced evictions (known as Operation Murambatsvina) and other cases of forced evictions that have taken place.

5. Continue with the institutional reforms that started under the Government of National Unity to ensure that all government institutions, including law enforcement agencies, operate in a professional and non-partisan manner and respect international human rights standards.

6. Ensure that the Zimbabwe Republic Police fully respects and protects all the rights contained in the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution, including by: (a) conducting all its operations on a non-partisan basis; (b) fully upholding the rights of all arrested persons in line with Section 50 of the Constitution; and (c) training anti-riot police on how to police non-violent demonstrations in line with international standards.

7. Fulfil all commitments made by the government during the Universal Periodic Review of Zimbabwe in March 2012 such as acceding and domestication of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“UNCAT”) and its First Optional Protocol.

8. Acceptance and ratification and domestication of one of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (The African Charter on Democracy) that came into force on 15 February 2012.

9. Implement institutional and technical measures to ensure that future elections have integrity and that they meet both regional and international standards. This may include but without limitation, implementation of biometrics technology.

10. Pursue a rights based approach to the economy in order to advance the national objectives in the constitution based on the concept of progressive realization of all economic and social rights as spelt out in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Geneva Programme of Action of 1993.

11.  Advance and institutionalize the human rights values of participation and citizens’ engagement as the next step in the process of constitutional renewal, creation of a constitutional culture, definition of national values and ensuring that government policy is underpinned by collective national aspirations. The dialogues, for example, could be rooted in the existing frameworks such as the proposed constitutional outreach.

Recommendations to the international community

International relations principles

  1. Under all circumstances first, second and third diplomatic channels should be given a chance
  2. There is need for multi-level dialogues on various issues. For example, while acknowledging that the government hasn’t done much to institute reforms, the European Union should consider moving beyond article 96 to article 8 dialogue. There should also be an article 13 dialogue.
  3. High level first track engagements must ideally be based on reciprocity and concessions
  4. Decisions must balance principle, evidence and reality,  the overarching  consideration being the plight of the ordinary Zimbabweans

 Social & Economic Rights

  1. Continue to support economic policies and sustainable development rooted in respect for human rights.
  2. Ensure that the most vulnerable in society have access to nutritious food and health facilities, but with a long term goal of creating both social and economic resilience and reduction of vulnerabilities.
  3. Support and strengthen channels for food  aid and agricultural input distribution.

Civil & political rights and institutional reform

  1. Work collaboratively with government , civil society and the region towards the advancement of the specific recommendations identified above.

Civil Society & NGOs

  1. Continue supporting organizations and individuals working towards the advancement of human rights out of an acknowledgement that the full realization of these ideals may take several years to achieve.

Download the Report here: Human Rights Rule of Law and Democracy Report2013

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.