Vol. 36, No. 6
Zimbabwe: Advocates present human rights charter
On September 23, during the 18th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a coalition of Zimbabwean civil society organizations (CSOs) launched a Human Rights Advocacy Charter. They did so in anticipation of the October 10 review of Zimbabwe's compliance with its human rights obligations through the Universal Peer Review (UPR) process. The charter, written by a coalition of over 30 organizations, highlights the key human rights issues in Zimbabwe and urges the country's government to take advantage of the UPR process to evaluate its human rights record in the past decade and take measures to correct its failings.
The Advocacy Charter was presented during a special event, "The Universal Peer Review Process (UPR) and the current human rights situation in Zimbabwe," jointly organized by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Geneva-based Zimbabwe Advocacy Office.
In officially commissioning the Advocacy Charter, Dzimbabwe Chimbga, a projects manager with ZLHR, noted that although the UPR process did not allow for direct interventions by CSOs during the review itself, there were mechanisms by which CSOs can make submissions to the Office of the UN High Commission that would form part of the overall submissions to the state. "CSOs can additionally lobby UN member states to relay certain questions or recommendations to the State under review during the actual review process. It is this space, among other state-targeted initiatives, that the coalition of CSOs had sought to explore," said Chimbga.
Commenting on the current human rights environment in Zimbabwe, Chimbga noted that, notwithstanding the signing of the Global Political Agreement that brought about the coalition government, human rights violations continued to be reported across the country. He said that in 2011, more than 1,000 cases of various human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, persecutions and harassment of human rights defenders had been documented by ZLHR.
With fresh elections imminent, Chimbga urged the government to create conditions that would allow for the holding of a free, fair and credible election by ensuring that the electorate freely exercised its right to vote. He declared that the era of disputed elections should become a thing of the past.
The UPR is a UN-led State to State review process of each member States' record of compliance with international human rights law. The process culminates in recommendations being made to the particular State on how it can enhance the protection and promotion of human rights of its people.
On October 10, the government of Zimbabwe presented its Human Rights Report at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council's 12th session of the Universal Periodic Review. According to the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (comprised of over 350 civil society groups), the report, prepared by the Ministry of Justice and Legal affairs, "painted a rosy picture of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and is starkly different" from reality. "Torture, harassment and politically motivated prosecutions of human rights defenders and perceived opponents have persisted, while villagers in many parts of the country have suffered ceaseless intimidation by supporters of the former ruling party, ZANU PF."
The government's report to the UPR claimed that the judiciary is independent and the army and police are non-partisan, but the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition asserts that state security agents continue to be at the forefront of perpetrating violence, intimidation and torture on innocent civilians perceived to be in opposition to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
The government's report also claims that Zimbabwe's constitution guarantees the protection against inhuman and degrading treatment and that the country has incorporated the rights to a fair trial and access to justice in the legal system. However, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition points to cases of trumped up charges against innocent political activists and human rights defenders that have been pending as a result of delays in court hearings and judicial abuse.
The coalition also faulted the report's claim that an independent Zimbabwe Media Commission exists to further human rights and that the government had opened up communication platforms through the licensing of commercial radio broadcasting services and satellite-based subscription services.