Commemorating United Nations Human Rights Day 2007
This year the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (The Forum) joins the whole world and all progressive Zimbabweans in celebrating the United Nations Human Rights Day. International Human Rights Day is marked every year on 10 December. The day marks the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Politically Motivated human rights violations and torture in 2007
Overall, for the period January – October 2007, unlawful arrest and detention, torture, political discrimination, and interference with freedoms were the most common violations reported. The Forum recorded high numbers of human rights violations on groups such as the Women of Zimbabwe Arise, (WOZA), the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lawyers and students from higher and tertiary education institutions.
Cumulative totals for January 2007 to October 2007 show that there have been 549 cases of torture, 3 086 of unlawful arrest and detention and 2 719 violations of the right to freedom of expression, association and movement. As at 31 October 2007 the Forum had recorded 3 murders which are either politically motivated or exhibit abuse of state power. These general trends make it plain that organised violence and torture have taken place on a large scale since January 2007. The Forum can safely conclude that the observance of human rights has been at its lowest ebb in 2007. Furthermore, the use of torture has been and continues to be widespread especially when being meted out on opposition party members. Most unfortunately, most of the violations have been linked to the police in spite of their constitutional and international obligations to exercise their duties professionally, without use of excessive force and generally maintaining citizens’ security.
In all legal systems, one who wrongfully injuries another is held responsible for redressing the injury caused. Moreover, the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) can also be held responsible for acts of torture committed by private individuals if it fails to seriously investigate, identify and prosecute those alleged to be responsible for the violations. A significant number of perpetrators of human rights violations against Zimbabweans in 2007 have not been arrested or accounted for, thus raising the fear that they may not be prosecuted or held accountable for the offences. Cases that come to the fore include:
- The widespread assault and torture of civil society activists, and opposition political party leaders on 11 March 2007
- The thuggish attack on Nelson Chamisa (MDC MP) at the Harare International Airport on his way to attend an official state meeting of the ACP – EU in Belgium.
- the brutal assault on Beatrice Mtetwa (Law Society of Zimbabwe President), and her 4 other colleagues after a march to the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to protest the arrest of their colleagues.
- the murder of Gift Tandari, an NCA member on 11 March in Highfield
Non – timeous investigation by the state has plagued the Zimbabwean justice system for a long time. Since the 1998 Food Riots, the Forum has fought legal battles in Zimbabwean and international fora against perpetrators of these violations and has won some of the cases. However, the Forum notes with sadness the delays in paying compensation by the state to the extent that when it is paid it is not enough to cater for the bus fare for victims to go and collect it. Furthermore, some of the perpetrators continue to enjoy de facto and de jure impunity through police inaction, non – prosecutions, delayed judgements, amnesties and or pardons, which have effectively frustrated victims’ efforts to seek justice.
Global human rights treaties expressly guarantee the right to a remedy and oblige state parties to provide a remedy when human rights are violated. In 1998, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body mandated to monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Zimbabwe is a party, after its consideration of the implementation by Zimbabwe of the ICCPR, recommended that the GoZ set up independent bodies to investigate all cases of human rights violations committed by the police and army during the Food Riots in February of that year. This did not happen.
Furthermore, the Forum has interacted with the African human rights system in the quest for the promotion and protection of human rights in Zimbabwe. The Forum and several other Zimbabwean human rights organisations have filed complaints averring breach of various provisions of the African Charter. These complaints are under consideration by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (African Commission).
The first Communication by the Forum on violence from 2000 – 2002, was filed in 2002 but the determination by the Commission was only adopted by the African Union Heads of State and Government in 2005. The GoZ had been given the right to reply in all proceedings. The Commission had found the GoZ in violation of articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter, which is the protection of the law and the right to a fair trial.
The African Commission called on the GoZ to “establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate, the causes of the violence that took place from February – June 2000 and bring those responsible for violence to justice and identify the victims of the violence in order to provide them with just and adequate compensation”. This recommendation was ignored by the government, as was that of the UN Human Rights Committee in 1998.
In other engagements with Zimbabwe, the African Commission undertook a Fact Finding Mission to Zimbabwe from 24 – 28 June 2002 following what the Mission report describes as widespread reports of human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The Mission concluded, “there was enough evidence placed before us to suggest that, at the very least during the period under review, human rights violations occurred in Zimbabwe and that Government cannot wash its hands from responsibility for all these happenings”. The Mission made a number of recommendations that included among others, the need for creating an environment conducive to democracy and human rights, the need to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the need to have a professional police service.
The Forum notes with regret that these recommendations have not been implemented by the GoZ. Human rights violations continue to be perpetrated by the police and other state agents with impunity. Abuse of state power by state security agents, disregard of court orders by the police, harassment of lawyers, intimidation of lawyers representing opposition and civic society activists continued unabated in 2007.
Despite the current SADC Mediation Initiative between ZANU PF and the two MDC factions, the political environment remains unstable and human rights violations persist. In our view, the cessation of violence is one of the most important requirements for peace in Zimbabwe.
Consequently as the world celebrates United Nations Human Rights Day, the Forum exhorts the GoZ to abide by its obligations embodied in international treaties to which Zimbabwe is signatory. The Forum calls for the immediate cessation of all state sponsored acts of violence against citizens peacefully demonstrating for their constitutional or political rights. The Human Rights Forum reiterates the need for the GoZ to take measures to stop acts of torture, repeal repressive legislation, and generally uphold human rights. Moreover, the Human Rights Forum continues its call for the GoZ to ratify the UN Convention against Torture as requested by the Parliament of Zimbabwe in 2001.