THE international community, headlined by the United Nations, has denounced the use of brute force by the Zimbabwean military to quell protests that rocked Harare on Wednesday, resulting in the killing of six people.
Soldiers went on the rampage as they sought to disperse a violent group of protestors linked to the MDC Alliance who were expressing their frustration over alleged electoral fraud in Monday’s general elections.
The protesters were also demanding the expeditious release of the presidential election results.
The UN was complemented by international observers accredited to observe the elections in the country, chiefly the European Union, United States organisations, Commonwealth, and the African Union, which released a joint statement yesterday condemning the indiscriminate killings.
“The (UN) Secretary-General is concerned about reports of incidents of violence in Harare following the elections on July 30. He recalls commitments the stakeholders made in the peace pledge and the code of conduct to ensure a peaceful and orderly electoral process. He calls on the political leaders and the population to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence while awaiting the announcement of the election results,” UN statement reads.
International observers, in a joint statement yesterday, condemned army brutality, while also condemning violent protests.
“We denounce the use of excessive force to quell protests and urge the police and army to exercise restraint,” the observers said.
“. . . We urge [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] to release the full and detailed results expeditiously in a transparent and accountable manner. This election presents an opportunity for Zimbabwe to break the cycle of electoral contentions and post-election violence,” the statement reads.
Amnesty International also condemned the use of live ammunition on defenceless protesters.
“It is unfortunate that this election has descended into bloodshed, which could have been avoided if security forces had exercised restraint against protesters. The army’s conduct should be promptly investigated, with those responsible brought to justice,” Colm Ó Cuanacháin, Amnesty International’s acting secretary-general, said.
“By using live ammunition against unarmed protesters, the army has broken the very same rule of law that they should protect. The militarisation of the prevailing post-election environment is muzzling freedom of expression, association and assembly. People must be guaranteed their right to protest,” Ó Cuanacháin added.
Amnesty International says firearms should never be used as instruments to restore law and order. “The loss of life for people protesting for the release of the election results was totally unnecessary. They wanted to see how they had voted and Zimbabwean authorities had a duty to facilitate this in a peaceful manner, without deploying the army to the streets,” Ó Cuanacháin said.
British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing met government ministers on Wednesday and made it clear that soldiers should be removed from the streets and urged security forces to act in utmost restraint. The Commonwealth Observer Mission also weighed in, denouncing the excessive use of force against unarmed civilians, urging all parties to exercise restraint.
“Let me start by expressing the Commonwealth Observer Group’s profound sadness at the outbreak of violence by supporters of the opposition and the excessive use of force by the security services in the last 24 hours,” Commonwealth Observer Mission chairperson John Dramani Mahama said.
“Tragically, this has resulted in a number of fatalities and injuries. We extend our sympathies to the families and loved ones of all those affected by these troubling incidents,” Mahama added.
The National Patriotic Front (NPF), a formation of disgruntled Zanu PF members purged following Mugabe’s ouster, described the killings as a consequence of military rule in Zimbabwe.
“We note that Zimbabwe has mutated into a fully-fledged military dictatorship and illegal deployment of soldiers on to the streets and the reckless use of live ammunition on unarmed civilians yesterday in the full glare of the international media accredited to cover our elections has confirmed what the NPF has always argued that the military takeover of the government last year has brought into power, a monster regime that is ‘prepared to shoot in order to stay in power’ as accurately disclosed by Minister of State for Masvingo Province Josiah Hungwe , a close Mnangagwa loyalist,” NPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said.
Cases of subtle intimidation have been recorded by several observer missions, including the European Union, Sadc and the Commonwealth, where Zanu PF allegedly used food aid to garner votes but on Wednesday human rights violations hit a new low.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) chairperson Elasto Mugwadi slammed the army for undue interference in civilian protests, saying the use of brute force was unjustified.
“The ZHCR would like to join all peace-loving Zimbabweans in condemning in the strongest of terms the use of live ammunition and excessive force on unarmed citizen Protestants on the August 1 2018. Regrettably we understand that there was unnecessary loss of life and property,” Mugwadi said.
Mugwadi said there was no need to bring in the army since the police were equipped to quell the protests that started at the opposition headquarters. “While the commission does not in any way support violence, hooliganism and vandalism by any protester, constitutionally, there are better ways of managing protests without infringing on the rights of citizens’ life which must be jealously guarded by all state institutions at all times. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission urges that the army be only deployed when necessary for maintenance of law and order with strict compliance with international best practices including restrictions in the use of live ammunition against protesters,” Mugwadi said.
Mugwadi called upon political leaders to exercise restraint in the post-election period, condemning provocative statements by the MDC Alliance. Police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga on Wednesday invoked section 37 of the Public Order and Security Act that allows the Zimbabwe Republic Police to seek assistance from the army to maintain law and order.
“If upon a request made by the Commissioner of Police, the minister is satisfied that any regulating authority requires the assistance of the Defence Forces for the purpose of suppressing any civil commotion in any police district, he may request the minister responsible for defence to authorise the defence forces to assist the police in the exercise of their functions under this Act in the Police district,” reads the Act.
ZimRights national chairperson Takesure Musiiwa called upon Zimbabweans to maintain post-electoral peace. “We note with concern the unfolding developments, which are drawing the country towards a precipice of conflict. We call for all stakeholders to exercise caution and maintain peace and minimise inflammatory actions and statements,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe called on political parties to urge their supporters to desist from all forms of violence and denounced the use of excessive force on civilians.