THE European Parliament has urged the international community, particularly the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), to put pressure on Zimbabwe over the disappearance of journalist-turned-civic activist Itai Dzamara who was abducted about three months ago saying the Zimbabwean government has not done enough to search for his whereabouts.
In a resolution passed following a meeting held in Strasbourg, France, on May 21, European parliamentarians also said Zimbabwe has done little to improve its human rights situation after the controversial 2013 general elections, despite adopting a progressive new constitution.
Dzamara was abducted close to his home in Glen View in Harare on March 9 by five unknown men suspected to be state security agents, and has not been seen or heard from since.
The parliament noted that prior to his abduction Dzamara had led a number of peaceful protests against the deteriorating political and economic situation in Zimbabwe and that two days before the abduction he addressed an MDC-T rally calling for mass protests against the worsening repression and economic situation in the country.
It noted that he had petitioned President Robert Mugabe to resign and called for electoral reforms.
The parliamentarians challenged Mugabe and his government to comply with their international obligations and the provisions of the international treaties signed by Zimbabwe that guarantee respect for the rule of law and the fulfilment of civil and political rights.
The parliament instructed its president, Martin Schulz, to forward the resolution to a number of bodies including the European Union (EU), Zimbabwean government and the Zimbabwean parliament, the governments of Sadc member states, the African Union Commission, the Pan-African Parliament, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and the secretary-general of the Commonwealth.
The resolution stated that the parliamentarians “acknowledged the establishment of the Zimbabwean Human Rights Commission, but is concerned that it has not been given any significant capacity with which to act independently and fulfil its objectives as regards the pressing human rights issues facing the country”.
It therefore called “for concerted action by the international community, in particular the Southern African Development Community” which mediated in Zimbabwe before the 2013 elections.
The legislators noted that government has remained silent on
Dzamara’s disappearance, heightening suspicion among the public that the state was responsible. It also noted that a High Court order of March 13 demanding Zimbabwean authorities search for Dzamara and report progress to the court every two weeks until his whereabouts are determined has been ignored by the authorities.
They also noted that Dzamara had been assaulted on several occasions by Zanu PF supporters and police officers, including in November last year when he was attacked until he was unconscious.
Part of the resolution says the European Parliament “strongly condemns the forced disappearance of human rights defender Itai Dzamara and calls for his immediate and unconditional release;
“Urges the Government of Zimbabwe to take all necessary measures to find Mr Dzamara and bring all those responsible to justice; calls on the government to fully comply with the High Court order directing them to search for Mr Dzamara;
“Calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure the safety and security of his wife and family, and his colleagues and supporters.”
Without explicitly recommending the withdrawal of aid to Zimbabwe, the European Parliament highlighted that in February the EU resumed its aid to Zimbabwe and was releasing 234 million euros under the National Indicative Programme, which among other things seeks to help the country become more democratic and prosperous.
Meanwhile, United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Shannon Smith on Wednesday told the US Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organisations that her government expressed “grave concern” over the disappearance of Dzamara.
Smith said: “Mr Dzamara gained notoriety after he presented a letter to the Office of the President and Cabinet in 2014 demanding that President Mugabe step down for failing the Zimbabwean people. During our recent visit to Zimbabwe, my colleague and I raised this case with the government and in virtually every meeting.
“The United States stands with Mr Dzamara and the people of Zimbabwe in defending the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The European MPs said they believe the promotion of democracy, protection of human rights and the rule of law are essential if Zimbabwe is to become a free and prosperous country.
Dzamara’s disappearance has consistently cropped up in discussions between Zimbabwe and Western countries, including during the International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington where Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa was constantly asked about the progress government had made in their investigations.
Confirming to the Zimbabwe Independent last week that a high-powered delegation from the French ministry of Foreign Affairs will today visit Harare to re-engage government formally on bilateral issues after over a decade of strained diplomatic relations, French ambassador to Zimbabwe Laurent Delahouse said re-engagement efforts had been dampened by Dzamara’s disappearance.
“One issue which is a still a cause of concern is the disappearance of Itai Dzamara,” he said. “This is a very important issue.”