ON December 10, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Human Rights Day, amid lingering fears that the country’s human rights record has deteriorated markedly since President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed power three years ago.
Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the globe to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global recognition of human rights
The coup, which brought Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule to a dramatic close and ushered in Mnangagwa in November 2017, was roundly condemned, by some for subverting a constitutional government.
Even though the military putsch was met with wild cheers from the generality of Zimbabweans who had witnessed the horror of Mugabe’s ruinous rule, the intervention of the armed forces in democratic processes marked an alarming precedent for Zimbabwe. The fatal shooting of six civilians by state security agents in the aftermath of 2018’s disputed polls also stained Mnangagwa’s rule despite pledges to turn the page from his predecessor’s rule.
Mnangagwa’s administration drew criticism after the deadly shootings, which were triggered by protesters who were demanding the release of the poll results.
Though Mnangagwa was quick to assemble a commission led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, the government drew fresh criticism after it dismally failed to implement the recommendations of the commission. Among the recommendations, the Motlanthe Commission encouraged the government to bring to book the state security agents who opened fire on the civilians as well as compensating the victims. Two years after the killings the government has not disbursed any compensation to the surviving victims, some of whom sustained life-threatening injuries.
Political analyst Prolific Mataruse contends that Mnangagwa’s rhetoric on upholding human rights should translate into tangible results.
“The present Harare administration has made a lot of platitudes towards human rights protection. But there is a lot of fragility within the state currently, owing to hardships people are facing and intrigues associated with power retention that have introduced uncertainty and tendencies to relapse into the old bad habits of arbitrary arrests, selective application of the law, and outright illegalities,” he said.
“We hope the rhetoric will soon translate into serious commitments and lived realities — a nation of equals, a nation where the human body is inviolable and sacrosanct.”
Two years after the shootings, the Zimbabwe Independent spoke to Maxwell Tauro, the father of Ignatius Tauro who was shot dead on August 1, 2018, who explained that he had not received any compensation from the government, despite the government’s pledge. “No one has reached out to us. We have not received any money from the government. I once followed up on the docket and they said they will tell us when they need me,” Chitauro told the Independent on July 31.
On the international arena, though Mnangagwa committed to drive the reengagement agenda seen as key towards rehabilitating Zimbabwe in the community of nations, his administration remained obstinate towards implementing sweeping political reforms.
In the face of an imploding economy, state security agents were to shoot dead again, at least a dozen civilians in January 2019 during protests against a 150% fuel increase by the government. At home and abroad, Mnangagwa’s administration was excoriated for using excessive force when dealing with dissent. At the time of the shootings, Human Rights Watch southern Africa director Dewa Mavhima observed that Zimbabwe could not afford to gift the trigger-happy security agents impunity.
“Zimbabwe security forces carried out killings, rape, torture and other grave abuses — during and since the January protests.
“The authorities should arrest and prosecute those responsible for abuses and send a strong message that crimes by the security forces won’t be tolerated.”
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, security forces need to use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.
In May, suspected state security agents allegedly abducted MDC-Alliance youth leaders namely Joanah Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. But the government denied any involvement, citing that the so-called abductions were stage managed.
A year earlier, state security agents were also accused of abducting former Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) leader Peter Magombeyi. Though Magombeyi later resurfaced, the government also said the abduction could have been stage managed.
Mnangagwa’s administration also sparked the ire of the international community following the arrest of award-winning journalist Hopewell Chingono, who is largely credited for exposing the irregular manner in which former Health minister Obadiah Moyo awarded a US$60 million tender to Drax International for the procurement of Covid-19 consumables. The multi-million-dollar scandal also sucked in Mnangagwa’s sons through their association with Drax International representative Delish Nguwaya.
Political analysts contend that under Mnangagwa’s administration, Zimbabwe’s human rights record has worsened .
“We have actually regressed as a country ever since Mnangagwa took over, obviously the first six months looked promising after the exit of Mugabe,” political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said.