Showdown looms over human rights

Augustine Mukaro

A SHOWDOWN looms at the African Commission meeting in Banjul later this year where government is set to present a report on the human rights situation in the country.


<
P>Civic groups are preparing a counter document.


Zimbabwe, which last presented a human rights report to the commission in 1996, has embarked on the move, civic groups say, in a desperate bid to defuse mounting pressure from African states. Civic organisations are however in the process of preparing a counter report that would be presented alongside government’s.


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights meeting scheduled for November in Banjul was initially set to be held in Harare but government opted out saying it had no money.


The government’s report, a copy of which is in the hands of the Independent, skirts around crucial issues which have plunged the country into the current economic morass.


The report is silent on issues such as the violent land invasions, violence that rocked the country’s last three major elections, human rights violations resulting from the government’s controversial Operation Murambatsvina, and the recent 17th Constitutional amendment, which virtually took away the right to private property and undermines the role of the judiciary.


It also glosses over draconian laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act without pointing out that the legislation led to the closure of three newspapers and took away the right to assembly by Zimbabwean workers and civics.


“Following the completion of Operation Restore Order, the government has embarked on a property ownership scheme termed Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle,” the government report says.


“Under the scheme, plots have been allocated to various home-seekers, in particular those that were affected by Operation Restore Order. On the sites specifically allocated to the affected persons, construction of homes is in progress.”


Civic organisations described government’s report on Operation Murambatsvina as misleading as it leaves out the arbitrary demolition of houses in high-density suburbs resulting in the displacement of an estimated 700 000 people.


“There is no way you can talk of Operation Garikai without giving highlights of the crisis created by (Operation) Murambatsvina,” one human rights lawyer spearheading the writing of the civic organisations’ shadow report said.


“Government should first show that it created a disaster through Murambatsvina displacing hundreds of thousands of people without alternative accommodation in the process. It should also mention the setting up of transit camps which had no infrastructure to handle such large numbers of people.


“It should also mention the disparities between the number of displaced people and those allocated stands. A very small fraction of the displaced have benefited from the Operation Garikai initiative.”


On land the government report says: “Government embarked on the land reform programme to correct the disparities which had been entrenched on racial lines.


“The guarantee to the right to property remains as reported, however the constitution has since been amended to exempt government from paying compensation for any acquired land for resettlement,” government says.

Civic organisations said although noone is opposed to land reform, government did not explore the violent invasions which characterised the land reform and the seizures of farming equipment without compensation.

“Government doesn’t explain how the land invasions transformed the once breadbasket of the southern African region into a net importer of food,” another human rights lawyer said.