NYASHA CHINGONO/BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
UNITED Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the Rights of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Clement Voule this week flew into a storm as his visit coincided with the reported abduction of the acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association Peter Magombeyi amid worsening human rights violations.
Civil society groups say more than 50 people have been abducted since the beginning of the year while there has been a spiralling of the security clampdown on civil liberties since last year’s election.
Voule’s visit coincided with a doctors’ strike over the abduction.
There were reports that Dr Magombeyi was released last night, but there was no official confirmation.
Dr Magombeyi was allegedly abducted by unknown assailants last Saturday at his home in Budiriro, Harare. The government blamed a “third force” for the disappearance that happened after the young medical practitioner led a strike against poor salaries.
While blaming a “third force”, government also alleges that the abductions were stage managed to tarnish the image of the country ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York where the issue of human rights is likely to take centre stage.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is set to attend the summit where Zimbabwe is expected to present a report on human rights.
Voule’s visit has rattled the state amid growing demands for Magombeyi’s immediate release. The abduction led to doctors downing their stethoscopes, leading to a barrage of criticism against the government.
Voule said he would issue his first preliminary report today.
“I’m here at the invitation of the government of Zimbabwe to conduct a special country visit regarding my mandate which is to assess the implementation and the protection of the right to freedom of association, peaceful assembly in the country. I will be conducting these visits from today until 27 September and I will also share with you my preliminary observation of the situation in the country,” Voule told reporters on Wednesday.
The UN rapporteur is expected to meet civil society leaders, human rights groups the opposition, government officials and Mnangagwa to discuss the human rights situation in the country.
The state has a long history of abductions with no arrests having ever been made. A case in point is that of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum chairperson Jestina Mukoko who was abducted in December 2008, only to resurface three weeks later in police custody.
Mukoko told the Independent that Voule’s visit would go a long way in cleaning Zimbabwe’s bad human rights record.
“The mandate of the special rapporteur as you might be aware is to understand the situation in the country as far as these rights are concerned and make recommendations that will help strengthen the position of the country depending on what his mission will reveal,” Mukoko said.
“Indeed, he has met some human rights defenders and we believe he comes in at a critical juncture when there have been many concerns about the violation of the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.”
Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet in charge of Presidential Communications George Charamba said government had underestimated the “third force”, and was finding ways of tackling it.
“There’s now awareness of the latest subterfuge which is anti-Second Republic.
The security services have gone back to the drawing board to deal with this. The intentions of this third force are to create internal instability and to affect Zimbabwe’s international rating, we can’t allow that,” he said.
Charamba said the third force is suspected to be composed of ex-Rhodesians who are working independently or with the opposition, disgruntled former members of the security services as well as elements of the G40.
In August alone, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum reported 19 cases of abduction, while the state continues to maintain a tight grip on freedom of assembly as witnessed by the banning of the MDC’s countrywide demonstrations last month.
Ahead of and during the protest ban, a spate of beatings and abductions occurred with police mounting roadblocks along major roads leading into Harare city centre, plunging the nation into an undeclared state of emergency.
Masked and heavily armed security agents have been abducting and severely assaulting opposition politicians, trade unionists and civil society leaders before dumping them at various locations.
Among the recent cases of abduction is the widely condemned kidnapping and assault of comedian Samantha Kureya who was last month seized at gunpoint, stripped naked and assaulted before she was made to drink raw sewerage.
Other abduction cases include Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure, who was kidnapped by assailants wearing black masks and armed with AK47 rifles and pistols. He was later dumped in a bushy area near Manyame Airbase in June.
Zimbabwe has a long history of abductions and torture that predate independence. In 1975 Edson Sithole and his secretary Miriam Mhlanga were abducted in Salisbury, now Harare.
Some of the people who were abducted and later found dead are Edwin Nleya, Cain Nkala, Tonderai Ndira, Abigail Chiroto and Patrick Nabanyama.
Others have however not been found to date and they include, Rashiwe Guzha, Itai Dzamara Marceline Dzumbira and Paul Chizuze, among others.
Zimbabwe is yet to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
While the UN secretariat is pushing for a universal ratification of Cat, Zimbabwe has remained out of step with the rest of the world.