Human and People’s Rights in June 2002.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum takes grave exception to the behaviour of the Zimbabwe Government at the recent meeting of the Executive Council of the Ministers of the African Union [AU], as well as the plethora of comments by the state-controlled media concerning this meeting. At this meeting, the Minister of Foreign Affairs conveyed the impression that his Government was ignorant of the report on human rights observance submitted to the Executive Council by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights [ACHPR]. At the least, the Minister had been poorly prepared for this meeting, and, at the worst, the Minister was misleading his august colleagues.
The Human Rights Forum therefore wishes to set the record straight on the facts surrounding the tabling of this report before the Executive Council of the AU.
The ACHPR was instituted by the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This was promulgated by the eighteenth Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity [OAU], in June 1981, Nairobi, Kenya. Zimbabwe is a signatory to this Charter.
In July 2000, the OAU was superceded by the establishment of the African Union, through the promulgation of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. Following the passing of this Act, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights no longer reported to the OAU, but to the Assembly of the African Union through the Executive Council of Ministers of the AU.
One of the main functions of the ACHPR is to attend to Communications submitted by individuals, NGOs and States Parties to the African Charter, alleging violations of human rights by the states that are signatories to the OAU Charter. This is usually done through the submission of a Communiqué, which must follow the formal procedure laid down in the OAU Charter.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum submitted such a Communiqué to the ACHPR which was seized at the 31st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR held in Pretoria, South Africa, between 2 and 16 May 2002. That Communiqué remains sub judice with the Commission and hence the Forum will not comment upon this Communiqué.
The ACHPR had requested over several years, prior to the submission of the Forum’s Communiqué, to undertake a fact finding mission to Zimbabwe, and this was acceded to by the Zimbabwe Government at the 31st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR in Pretoria, South Africa. This is well within the terms of reference of the Commission, as stated in Article 46 of the OAU Charter. Article 46 gives the Commission wide powers in its methods of investigation, and had previously undertaken missions to Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
Accordingly, a mission comprised of two Commissioners visited Zimbabwe in June 2002. This group met with a wide range of Government officials, agencies and briefly with a wide range of representatives from Zimbabwean civil society. At the meeting with Zimbabwean civil society organisations, the Commissioners were provided with the opportunity to meet with victims of alleged gross human rights violations, as well as being provided with a large number of reports and other documents by the members attending.
The report compiled was, therefore, based on a wide range of information available to the Commissioners, and, of course, included their professional observations. The report was finally submitted to the ACHPR for consideration at the 34th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR held in Banjul, Gambia, from 6 to 20 November, 2003. This report was adopted by the Commission at this meeting, although two previous meetings had taken place previously at which, for various reasons, this report was not considered.
The protocol involved in dealing with such reports is straight forward, and would be well-known to the Zimbabwe Government. Following the adoption of a report, the Secretariat of the ACHPR would then forward this to the Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, as specified in Article 54 of the Charter.
It is pertinent here to point out that the process leading up to the presentation of this report was initiated by the ACHPR, following an invitation to the Commission from the Zimbabwe Government. In addition, the Zimbabwe Government had been consulted about the findings of the report and had ample opportunity to comment on the report. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has itself direct knowledge of this process.
In January 2004, the Forum wrote to the Secretary of the ACHPR, requesting information about the status of the report, and was informed in a letter dated 5 February 2004 that the report had been forwarded to the Zimbabwe Government, which would be given the opportunity to make its comments and that the report would be published together with the comments of the Government when there were received. The Forum’s own investigations with the Zimbabwe Government revealed that the Ministry of Justice was working on a response in May 2004.
Thus, it is very difficult to believe that the Zimbabwe Government could possibly have been ignorant of the report, and indeed expected a report as this had been the procedure in respect of a number of other African countries that are signatories to the AU Constitutive Act and previously the OAU Charter. It is also difficult to believe that the Zimbabwe Government was ignorant of the possible findings, especially in the light of the enormous number of adverse reports on human rights violations in Zimbabwe over the past few years.
Thus, it seems clear that the only motive behind the Minister’s behaviour at the AU Executive Council Meeting could have been to delay consideration of the report until the next AU Summit, by which time there could no possible effect of the report on the conducting of the critically important general elections. It is particularly likely that this is the motive since all responsible observers are clear that there is a strong positive relationship between the organized violence and torture and elections.
Here we would emphasis one of the conclusions of the Johannesburg Symposium held by Zimbabwean civil society in August 2003: “From 2000 onwards, there have been increasing levels of violence resulting in pervasive human rights abuses. All available evidence indicates that the government has engaged in a widespread, systematic, and planned campaign of organised violence and torture to suppress normal democratic activities, and to unlawfully influence the electoral process. The government has also created, and the law enforcement agencies have vigorously applied, highly repressive legislation. These measures were directed at ensuring that the government retained power rather than at overcoming resistance to achieving equitable land redistribution and correcting historical iniquities.”
As the high-lighted section indicates, the Zimbabwean attendees to the Johannesburg Symposium clearly agree that crimes against humanity have been perpetrated since 2000, and this is one of the very few reasons for the AU to consider direct action against a member state of the AU.
In the light of the seriousness of the Zimbabwe situation, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum makes a number of calls.
To the AU:
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum thus calls upon the AU to ensure that this report receives the fullest possible attention as soon as possible.
To the Member States of the AU:
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum calls upon the member States of the AU to request an extra-ordinary meeting of the Executive Council in order to consider both the ACHPR report and the general situation in Zimbabwe.
To the Zimbabwe Government:
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum repeats its call of the Johannesburg Symposium:
1. That there be an immediate end to political violence and intimidation, an immediate disbanding of the militia, and an immediate return to non-partisan police, army and intelligence services and non-selective application of the law;
2. That there be an immediate repeal of all repressive legislation and unjust laws such as the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Broadcasting Services Act; and that charges brought before the repeal of these laws should be withdrawn and sentences previously imposed be annulled;
3. That there be an immediate opening up of political space, including the immediate and complete overhaul of electoral laws and institutions to enable all elections to be held under free and fair conditions;
4. That the economic and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe must be immediately addressed.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum also wishes to place on record its repugnance at the vilification of AU member states, the ACHPR, and Commissioners of the ACHPR by the state-controlled media of Zimbabwe.
To African civil society organizations:
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum calls upon all African civil society organizations to publicly express solidarity with the ACHPR and the decision of the Executive Council of the AU to keep the ACHPR report on the agenda.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum also calls upon African civil society organizations to exert pressure on their own governments to ensure that an extra-ordinary meeting of the Executive Council takes place as soon as possible to discuss the Zimbabwe situation and the ACHPR report.
Human and People’s Rights in June 2002.