Human rights abuses continue despite AU report

Gift Phiri

DESPITE clear evidence that government received the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) report, the authorities in Harare have done nothing to address the issues raised in the

document.


The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said government had the report at least by February 5 this year although other groups say it was much earlier than that.


Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge confirmed the report was submitted to government but claimed it was sent to the “wrong” ministry. The report has been gathering dust at the Justice ministry for sometime now.


Government has remained firmly on its course of repression and human rights violations. It has continued to undermine the independence of the judiciary through blatant political interference.


Eight judges, including former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, were forced to leave the bench by government through a campaign of intimidation.


“Intimidation and attacks on judicial officials and lawyers have intensified significantly since the beginning of the year,” said former head of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Sternford Moyo.


“Judges and magistrates who demonstrated judicial independence were threatened with investigation and disciplinary action for alleged misconduct. They were also subjected to intimidation and attacks for rulings perceived to be favourable to MDC supporters.”


Former judge president of the Administrative Court, Michael Majuru, this week made sensational revelations of how Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa exerted pressure on him to initially delay and subsequently throw out the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe case.


The government last year came under fire from the International Bar Association, a worldwide group of lawyers and judges who monitor threats to the independence of the judiciary. After a visit to Zimbabwe, the Bar Association said “the government was abandoning the rule of law”.


The ACHPR report notes with concern the partisanship of the police. The government continued to intensify its misuse of the police to suppress freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Opposition rallies have been consistently disallowed. The few that are allowed are marred by violence perpetrated by Zanu PF youth militia.


Human rights lawyers said police officers committed human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, assaults and torture. “The police failed to intervene to protect communities under attack by Zanu PF militia, while protecting militia members alleged to have carried out assaults,” said Moyo.


“Suspected perpetrators of these human rights abuses who were apprehended were not brought to justice, nor were police officers who colluded with or acquiesced in violations by the militia. Police who acted impartially were purged from service or transferred to inferior postings or administrative positions,” he said.


The African Commission report said there had been a “flurry of new legislation” and the enactment of colonial-style legislation. The Public Order and Security Act (Posa), enacted in January 2002, imposed severe restrictions on civil liberties and criminalised a wide range of activities associated with the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.


It provides for the imprisonment of journalists convicted of “causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of the president”. It also criminalises false reporting and statements that “incite or promote public disorder or public violence”. The Act also requires that police be notified in advance of any public gathering of more than two people, and prohibits the assembly of people police believe could cause public disorder.


In March 2002, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) was enacted. Under Aippa, journalists and media houses are required to register with the government-appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC).


The Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe challenged the constitutionality of those sections of Aippa that prescribe the compulsory registration of journalists and punish scribes who write what the Act describes as “falsehoods”, on the basis that they violate freedom of expression. In a ruling handed down earlier this year, the Supreme Court reserved judgement. The government has gone on to amend Aippa to tighten loopholes and accord additional powers to the MIC and the Minister of Information.


In addition to the introduction of restrictive legislation, government intensified efforts to clamp down on independent journalists and media houses through harassment, attacks and arbitrary arrests. At least 90 journalists have been arrested following the enactment of Aippa, some repeatedly.


Newspaper street vendors have been harassed and attacked for selling independent newspapers which have allegedly been banned in many rural areas. The Harare office of the Voice of the People, one of two independent broadcasting organisations, was bombed two years ago. No one has been arrested in connection with the bombing to date.


The report highlights government’s attempts to limit civil liberties by trying to curtail the operations of non-governmental organisations (NGO). In September 2002, the government issued a public notice advising NGOs to register with the government in accordance with Section 6 of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act.


The notice warned that those NGOs which continued to operate without registering risked prosecution. Although the PVO Act was enacted in 1997, it had not previously been fully enforced.


Government has recently been attempting to enforce the PVO Act. Top officials in the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations who requested anonymity said: “These are part of an overall campaign to further restrict freedoms of association and expression and prevent human rights organisations from investigating and publicising human rights abuses.”

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