When the Zimbabwean crisis is considered in the light of the Abuja Agreement, the starting place must surely be with the facts. Many aspects of the crisis are common cause, not denied by the Government, although the Government does offer reasons for some of the causes.
A short list of the commonly-agreed facts goes as follows:
- Massive economic decline, which predates the land invasions by more than 2 years;
- Removal of all economic support by the World Bank and IMF prior to the land invasions, which was predicated on financial mismanagement by the Government;
- Open acceptance by the Government of severe levels of corruption in the public sector;
- Deterioration of all support services for the poorer members of the society – health, education and social services;
- Exceptionally high levels of HIV infection in the general population;
- Lengthy involvement in a foreign war, with most costs being incurred by the national fiscus;
- Sustained attacks upon the judiciary;
- Sustained attacks upon the independent press.
Added to these facts, are some others, which are disputed by the Government, but are common cause to most other Zimbabwean players, and virtually all of the international community:
- Very high levels of political violence, with all available evidence indicating the major perpetrators are Government supporters, with tacit and overt Government support;
- A seriously flawed General Election in 2000, with legal challenges to 37 constituencies;
- Adverse international observer reports on the General Election;
- A number of flawed bye-elections subsequent to the General Election;
- The large scale occupation of white-owned commercial farms, and compulsory land acquisition on a dubious legal support;
- The declaration of a partisan position by leadership of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, and consequent tolerance of criminal acts perpetrated by Government supporters.
The Government response to these allegations has been several-fold:
- The passing of a general amnesty for virtually all political crimes committed in the pre-election period in 2000 – this a frank admission of guilt;
- The attempt to block the challenges to the General Election results, which was overturned by the Supreme Court;
- The proposed passing of draconian legislation in respect of the trade unions, the press, election monitoring, and terrorism. Here should be mentioned:
- The “harmonized “ Labour Act, with its restrictions on free trade union activity and severe controls on strikes and stayaways;
- The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, with its extreme controls on the press and media;
- The amendments to the Electoral Act, with its elimination of civil society monitors and voter education;
- The Public Order and Security Bill, with its sweeping powers and criminalization of some democratic rights.
- The continuous harassing and some spurious prosecution of members of opposition political parties;
- The perpetration of gross human rights by Government supporters against members of opposition political parties and ordinary citizens;
- The continuous and public assertions by the President, Government Ministers, Zanu(PF) supporters and militia leaders that they will not abide by decisions of the courts or unfavourable election results.
Overall, the Government asserts that all problems, both economic and political, are the result of an unfavourable land distribution. All persons who oppose this interpretation are deemed to be supporters of white colonial domination and a general imperialist conspiracy.
Virtually all of these facts, both agreed and disputed, were in evidence prior to the Abuja Agreement. Whilst the Abuja Agreement took seriously the Government’s thesis that land was the significant problem, it also made reference to all the other facts given above, and required the Government to take positive steps to address the crisis in its totality.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum previously published a report on the Government’s compliance with the Abuja Agreement in October 2001. This report was made widely available, and was given to the Abuja Foreign Ministers Group during their visit to Zimbabwe in October.
The current Human Rights Forum report – “Complying with the Abuja Agreement: Two Months Report” – examines compliance with the Abuja Agreement two months on.
As will be seen, there is no credible evidence that the violence has ceased, either on the commercial farms or in the country generally. The evidence before the Forum indicates that commercial farmers and commercial farm workers are still the victims of gross human rights violations. Furthermore, the evidence indicates, contrary to the assertions of the ZRP, that the ZRP still holds a partisan position, and is frequently either inactive in preventing crimes being committed, in offering protection to the citizens who are the victims of these crimes, and rarely take credible steps to investigate or to hand over for prosecution offenders implicated in the commission of these crimes. Additionally, there is evidence that the state law officers have been dilatory in prosecuting perpetrators of gross human violations.
Again, the evidence indicates that there is no significant reduction in the perpetration of gross human rights generally. There is no change in the number of gross human rights recorded post-Abuja, with the victims being overwhelmingly the supporters of the MDC or other persons deemed to be sympathetic to this party. The perpetrators are overwhelmingly government agents (CIO or police), ZanuPF supporters, or militia. Again there is little evidence to suggest that the ZRP have acted in defense of citizens, or made credible investigations. There is also evidence that perpetrators previously identified as committing human rights violations in the 2000 General Election are again identified in the current period as committing further human rights violations. Given the explicitly partisan position expressed by the senior management of the ZRP, the Forum demands an independent and impartial commission of inquiry on both the violence and the conduct of the ZRP.
As regards credible attempts by the Government to adhere to principles of democracy, transparency and human rights, the evidence suggests rather that the Government is taking steps inimical to such principles agreed at Abuja . The intended passing of a number of new laws, that will all interfere very dramatically with basic human freedoms are clearly not within the spirit of the Abuja Agreement. In particular, the amendments to the Electoral Act clearly violate the intention to hold free and fair elections, and are wholly against the spirit and the content of the SADC Parliamentary Forum’s Minimum Standards for Elections.
Thus, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Zimbabwe Government has no serious intention to adhere to the Abuja Agreement in any of its aspects. The actions of the Government suggest that it intends to hold elections against a background of organized violence and torture and, furthermore, to hold elections within a framework that is inimical to common standards for free and fair elections. Finally, the Government appears to be taking steps to apply repressive and draconian legislation to many branches of civil society. In the view of the Forum, there are no grounds for accepting that the Abuja Agreement can have any further validity.
The Human Rights Forum condemns the continued violence, the attempts to erode the basic freedoms of citizens and civil society organizations, and the failure to set in place generally-accepted conditions for free and fair elections. There is need for urgent action by both Zimbabweans and the international community if a major catastrophe is to be avoided in Zimbabwe . The Forum calls upon the Commonwealth and SADC to review their positions vis-à-vis the Zimbabwe Government, and to require it to ensure a return to the rule of law, an end to the violence, and the ensuring of free and fair elections within the standards of the Harare Declaration and the various SADC protocols regarding human rights observance and election standards.