21 Sep A peace that is no peace!
A peace that is no peace!
A reflection on the state of peace in the aftermath of the Zimbabwe 2023 Harmonised Elections
21 September 2023
The United Nations International Day of Peace (IDP) is commemorated annually on 21 September. This year, the IDP is commemorated less than a month after the country conducted its Harmonised Elections. In the usual fashion that has characterised elections in Zimbabwe, the pre-and post-election periods were marked by systematic episodes of violence, which have increased tensions and suspicion between citizens and the state. As the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) commemorates this day, we take a look at critical election-related developments that have a bearing on the state of peace in the country.
The Forum acknowledges efforts by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to invite foreign observer missions, embassies and their consulates to observe the just-ended Harmonised Elections. On 2 July 2023, all 15 Southern Africa Development Community Development (SADC) countries, the African Union (AU), the pan-African Parliament, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, the European Union (EU), the non-aligned Movement and the Commonwealth were invited to observe the polls in line with the government’s desire to re-engage the international community.
Subsequently, Foreign Election Observer Missions including SADC, AU-COMESA, Commonwealth, EU, and the Carter Centre among others issued their preliminary statements unpacking their findings of the 2023 Zimbabwe Harmonised. The Forum wishes to congratulate the international observer groups for their factual and credible reports on the elections. The preliminary reports issued by the Observer Missions echo sentiments that were raised by the Forum, and local observer groups, such as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) the Electoral Resource Centre (ERC), and multiple other civil society organisations.
There is consensus around common findings including:
- A restricted pre-election political environment characterised by limitations to the freedom of assembly and expression;
- Lawfare towards civic society organisations (CSOs) and political opponents;
- Covert violence in the form of voter intimidation at the behest of the Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ);
- Arbitrary arrests of members of CSOs, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and political opponents;
- Biased state media coverage of the campaign period;
- Voter suppression on polling day in urban areas; and
- Compromised, captured and weakened judiciary just to mention a few.
The Forum is concerned that there seems to be an unwarranted assumption that the elections were peaceful and free from violence. In as much as the assumption was based on comparisons made to previous elections, the Forum identified covert violence which has since manifested into direct violence in the post-election phase. Direct violence has manifested in the form of assaults, torture, police brutality and unwarranted use of force, arson, harassment, intimidation, abductions, arbitrary arrests and attacks against polling agents. These developments are in contradiction with the tenets of the International Day of Peace to eradicate all forms of violence, including covert violence which was rife during the 2023 Harmonised Election cycle.
Based on the increase in cases of organised violence and torture, and the assumption that the elections were peaceful, the Forum commissioned the report A Preliminary Report on Pre-Election Organised Violence and Torture: January 2021 to July 2023, which provides quantitative data on the violence over the past 30 months, to, in light of the International Day of Peace to provide a comprehensive picture of the elections.
Notwithstanding the recommendations set out in the report, the Forum demands:
- The GoZ to stop targeting, persecution and attacks on civilians, civil society members and political opponents in the post-election phase;
- The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to urgently release investigation findings of all OVT-related incidences, and names of identified perpetrators of police brutality against civilians;
- The GoZ open up civic and democratic space to facilitate the active demand for the freedoms of assembly and expression;
- The GoZ to immediately shut down the operations of FAZ as it continues to discharge a reign of terror in communities.