Statements by NGOs on the Situation of Human Rights in Africa with reference to Zimbabwe
by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum which has observer status
We thank Madame Chair and the Commission for this opportunity. We note and welcome the adoption of the Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe in 2002. In its report the Commission raised a number of issues and recommendations to the Zimbabwean government which are pertinent. We regret that these have neither been recognized nor realized by the State. In particular:
Creating an environment conducive to democracy and human rights
Government has failed to repeal repressive legislation as recommended by the Commission. Instead the legislature has passed additional laws which are inimical to fundamental rights and freedoms, including the Non-Governmental Organisations Act, which seeks to criminalize the activities of human rights organisations. Statutes such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act remain in force and continue to be selectively applied, specifically targeting human rights defenders. Although the President has not signed the NGO Bill, it has been referred back to Parliament and we have noted an increasing enforcement of the largely dormant Private Voluntary Organisations Act, which is very similar in content and pervasive in its effect to the NGO Bill. The Commission had noticed this threat and recommended that the PVO Act be repealed, but regrettably the government has ignored this recommendation. Thus NGOs continue to face persecution and harassment.
Independent National Institutions
The government has failed to reform and strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman. It therefore remains ineffective. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was set up in February 2005, purporting to be an independent body in conformity with AU and SADC Principles governing democratic elections. However its activities compete with those of the Electoral Supervisory Commission and the provisions of its enabling legislation allow for undue interference by the President and the Minister of Justice and therefore the issue of its impartiality remains a concern.
The Independence of the Judiciary
Government continues to interfere with the functions of the judiciary through executive manipulation, unwarranted attacks on judicial officers who deliver judgments which are perceived to be contrary to state policies, and deliberate non-enforcement of court orders. Examples include the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe case, and eight court orders in favour of a former opposition Member of Parliament. The judiciary itself has contributed to a view of partiality by delaying the setting down of sensitive matters as well as the delivery of judgments. Politicisation of the judiciary has been perpetuated with the appointment of judges perceived to be advancing the interests of government in the newly-established Electoral Court.
A Professional Police Service
The Commission recommended that certain unlawful activities of the Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, which acts under political instructions, be disbanded. We regret that this has been ignored and the force continues to unfairly target human rights defenders and members of the opposition, restricting their lawful activities. Likewise, the youth training camps and militias continue to operate and act as tools of the ruling party, especially during pre-election periods.
We regret that repressive media legislation continues to be enforced to the detriment of the media profession and society at large. Since September 2003 the State has closed down four privately-owned newspapers. It has failed to free the airwaves to alternative voices. This has impacted negatively on the availability of alternative information for the public, and has had a particularly adverse effect on the electorate in the run-up to the 2005 parliamentary elections.
Reporting Obligations to the African Commission
The Commission recommended that the government abide by its reporting obligations as required under Article 62 of the Charter. We would be encouraged if the government could provide information as to the steps taken to implement this recommendation of the Commission, as these are not at present apparent.
The previous elections were held under these conditions and the outcome did not reflect international norms and standards that are contained in the Charter and the relevant pronouncements by this Commission, in particular the Resolution on Electoral Process and Participatory Governance adopted by the Commission at its 19th Ordinary Session in Ouagadougou. That the government went on to hold the current elections without materially addressing the issues that were raised by the Commission indicates a lack of commitment to improving the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and has materially affected the validity of the electoral process.