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Zim faces grilling over violations

Augustine Mukaro

ZIMBABWE is likely to be grilled at the African Commission meeting in Gambia next month over a damning human rights report compiled by civic organisations chronicling “rampant rights violati

ons” over the past five years.

Civic groups will present a shadow report that reflects their own views against government’s official submission.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights requires governments to submit reports to the African Commission every two years.

Zimbabwe presented a human rights report to the commission in 1996 and decided to do so again nine years later. Civic groups see the belated submission as a desperate attempt to defuse mounting pressure and possible isolation.

The government’s own report glosses over critical issues which have plunged the country into the current economic crisis.

It skirts virtually all the negative incidents that the country experienced including the violence that accompanied the land invasions and all three elections held over the past five years.

The report is silent on the widely condemned Operation Murambatsvina that left an estimated 700 000 people homeless. Government mentions in passing the subsequent Operation Garikai without giving any background as to why it needed to undertake the nationwide housing construction programme.

The shadow report by civil society exposes the state’s unwillingness to uphold its primary responsibility to promote, protect and uphold human rights.

It highlights numerous challenges Zimbabwe has faced since the last report to the Commission in 1996, including a serious economic recession and political and social polarisation.

“Between 1997 and 2000 the increased poverty and political polarisation was reflected in food riots in 1998, during which ordinary Zimbabweans demonstrated against the rising price of bread,” the shadow report says.

“When the demonstrations became violent the state security forces used force to disperse the demonstrators leading to loss of life,” the report by civic organisations says.

The report highlights, with examples, the involvement of state security agents in many of the violent episodes that marred political activity after the formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and the launch of the now banned Daily News.

“The ruling party was involved in the violence and the state failed in its obligation to prosecute members of the ruling party for acts of violence,” the shadow report said.

It also exposes government failure to protect people during the land invasions.

“These invasions, illegal under Zimbabwean and international law, were often violent in nature including assaults, rapes and murders and led to confrontation between the invaders, farmers and farm workers.”

In 1999 war veterans and peasants invaded white-owned farms with tacit state approval. These occupations intensified after government lost a constitutional referendum in 2000 which included a clause to expropriate white commercial farmers without paying compensation.

The report indicts government for failing to prevent the invasions, and says numerous speeches by government and ruling party officials incited farm invasions as a form of land redistribution.

Government, the report adds, failed to provide remedies to the victims of violence associated with farm invasions, and has not prosecuted ruling party supporters accused of violence during the process.

The report says polls since the parliamentary election of 2000 have been marked by widespread violence blamed mainly on ruling party supporters.

“Approximately 300 people have died as a result of political and land-invasion related violence. Rapes, assaults, kidnappings and torture have occurred throughout the period,” the report says.

It says perpetrators of these crimes have been identified mainly as state agents including army, police and intelligence operatives as well as ruling party militias.

The report also highlights how government adopted restrictive legislation to thwart opposition voices and barred any gatherings perceived to be anti-government. The laws were ruthlessly enforced through security forces.

Between 2000 and 2002 the government enacted the Broadcasting Services Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Collectively, these Acts seriously restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

“One daily newspaper that did not comply with the registration requirement because it was challenging the constitutionality of the requirement was forced to close down. The ANZ and its assets were seized by the state.

Other newspapers have also been closed down for failing to meet the requirements of Aippa.

“Criticism of the state president was criminalised, as was the publication of falsehoods, having a chilling effect on the exercise of the freedom of expression. The police were granted wide powers to prohibit public meetings and demonstrations,” the report says.

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