By Melanie Nathan, September 12, 2013.
This open “letter-type” article was addressed to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe by Human Rights Watch’s Daniel Bekele, the executive director for HRW-Africa Division. We all know that Mugabe incessantly spews anti-gay hate and fosters an extremely homophobic society as a result. We trust that HRW has considered LGBT persons in subcontext, albeit not openly mentioned.
From Daniel Bekele is the executive director for HRW-Africa Division:
Your Excellency, We at Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 80 countries, write to you to express our concerns about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and to request that you give priority to improving human rights during your presidency.
We urge you and the incoming administration to take clear, decisive measures to honour the country’s human rights obligations and ensure the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms for the benefit of all Zimbabweans. Human Rights Watch believes that this is an important opportunity for your government to help nurture and develop a culture of respect for human rights in Zimbabwe that should not be missed.
Zimbabwe’s new constitution, signed into law on May 22 2013, enshrines the country’s domestic human rights obligations. The preamble to the constitution recognises “the need to entrench democracy, good, transparent and accountable governance and the rule of law,” and reaffirms, “commitment to upholding and defending fundamental human rights and freedoms.”
Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations are derived from the many international human rights conventions to which Zimbabwe is party including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as customary international law.
Human Rights Watch calls on your administration to place the promotion and protection of human rights at the top of its agenda and recommends the following priority areas for the new government’s human rights plan:
Reaffirm Rights Provisions in new Constitution
Under a power-sharing government with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from February 2009 to July 2013, a number of human rights reforms were initiated, including enactment of the new Constitution with a much broader bill of rights than its Lancaster House predecessor. To put Zimbabwe on a democratic and rights-respecting path leading to genuinely credible, free and fair elections, and to a durable human-rights environment, the new administration should reaffirm and ensure the realisation of the rights provisions contained in the new constitution.
Human Rights Watch urges the new administration to immediately amend or substantially repeal a number of laws to bring them in line with the provisions of the new constitution. For instance, article 208 of the new constitution states that members of the security services — the Defence Forces, the Police, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), and the Prison Service — must be non-partisan.
Implementation of this provision requires legislative amendments to the Police Act, Defence Act, Prisons Act, and enactment of legislation to govern operations of the CIO. The new administration should also take necessary measures to ensure that appointments, training and conduct of members of the army, police and CIO conform to the requirements of strict political neutrality in the discharge of their duties. The incoming administration should work to improve respect for human rights by government officials at all levels and seek international assistance to provide appropriate training and education to members of the police and other state agencies on human rights.
Additionally, the government of Zimbabwe should repeal or substantially amend repressive legislation, including the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the Interception of Communications Act (ICA), the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA), and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) to bring them in line with Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations.
Ensure accountability for past human rights abuses
The incoming government of Zimbabwe should ensure accountability for the perpetrators of past human rights violations, including investigating cases of serious abuses and prosecuting those found responsible, and press for appropriate remedies to victims of abuses, including those from the 2008 elections.
In the lead up to the June 2008 presidential runoff elections, Human Rights Watch investigations found that the Joint Operations Command (JOC), was responsible for orchestrating widespread political violence throughout the country against the MDC. This violence resulted in the killings of hundreds of perceived MDC activists and supporters and the beating, torture and forced displacement of thousands more.
To address these serious human rights abuses, the new administration should promptly investigate and prosecute, in accordance with national law and international standards, members of the security forces against whom there is evidence of criminal responsibility for serious human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment. Going forward, the new government should establish an independent civilian authority, charged with receiving complaints and investigating allegations of crimes committed by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, military and armed forces.
Protect Media Freedom
Human Rights Watch urges the new administration to carry out policies that encourage, not prohibit, freedom of the press. The government of Zimbabwe should work in a manner that guarantees the full implementation and realisation of the rights to freedom of association and assembly and the promotion of freedom of expression and communication.
Government action to promote and protect media freedoms includes making changes to repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
These laws have been used to severely curtail basic rights through vague defamation clauses and draconian penalties. Provisions dealing with criminal defamation and undermining the authority of or insulting the president, should be repealed, as they have been routinely been used against journalists and political activists.
Uphold rights of civil society, rights defenders
Since December 2012 under the coalition government administration, the police have carried out a campaign of politically motivated abuses against civil society activists and organisations, including the harassment and eight-day detention of human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa despite a High Court order for her release.
In the lead up to the July 2013 elections, police charged a number of civil society leaders including Jestina Mukoko, director of Zimbabwe Peace Project, Okay Machisa, director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, and Abel Chikomo, director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, with various alleged offenses under what appears to be politically-motivated attempts to curtail the human rights work by civil society organizations.
We urge you to send a clear public message to civil society that your new administration will honour its human rights obligations and not interfere with the rights of civil society organisations to freely operate across the country, without fear of harassment or intimidation. The ruling party, Zanu PF, should categorically revoke a resolution approved at the December 2012 Zanu PF annual conference to “instruct the party to ensure that government enforces the de-registration of errant [organizations] deviating from their mandate.”
Regulations approved by the Zanu PF minister for Youth and Indigenization, Saviour Kasukuwere, in January 2013, requiring all youth organisations to be registered with the Zimbabwe Youth Council or to be banned, should also be revoked. Under these regulations, no youth organisation may receive funding without authorisation from the youth council and all members or affiliates of registered youth organisations are required to pay exorbitant annual levies to the youth council. These regulations, if left to stand, may cripple the operations of youth organisations throughout the country.
Call to strengthen the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
The new constitution reaffirms the establishment of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), whose functions are:
To promote awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society;
To promote the development of human rights and freedoms;
To monitor and assess the observance of human rights in Zimbabwe;
To recommend to parliament effective measures to promote human rights and freedoms;
To investigate the conduct of any authority or person, where it is alleged that any of the rights in the constitution’s declaration of rights has been violated by that authority or person; and
To use subpoena powers to compel any authority or person to appear before the commission and to produce any document or record relevant to any investigation by the commission.
The potential impact of the ZHRC on the human rights environment, particularly curtailing impunity for serious abuses, is undermined by the commission’s limited mandate and jurisdiction — it can only investigate and address human rights abuses committed since February 2009, and not the numerous serious abuses committed before February 2009, including the widespread electoral violence of 2008. The ZHRC has frequently complained that it is not fully operational to address human rights complaints or carry out its core mandate due to lack of funds.
The ZHRC, established under the previous coalition government administration, still does not have technical staff. In December 2012, its founding chairperson, Reginald Austin, resigned citing inhibiting laws and lack of resources that compromise the ZHRC’s independence and capacity to carry out its mandate.
Human Rights Watch calls on the new administration to take immediate steps to ensure that the legislation establishing the ZHRC is fully compliant with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions and includes guarantees for independence in order for the commission to seek accreditation with the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
The administration should ensure that the ZHRC is adequately resourced, and has competent, independent and non-partisan secretariat staff. For greater effectiveness, the ZHRC should be empowered with a mandate allowing it to investigate human rights abuses that occurred before February 2009, including the 2008 abuses.
The government of Zimbabwe has important legal obligations under African and international human rights treaties that require it to respect the rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty and security of the person, as well as freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.
Human Rights Watch urges you to publicly express your personal commitments to these legal obligations, press for measures that would see to their implementation, and to instruct your officials to conduct themselves accordingly.
We look forward to a constructive dialogue with your government and to the prospect of the advancement of human rights in Zimbabwe.
Daniel Bekele is the executive director for HRW-Africa Division