Human Rights in Zimbabwe: disappointing compromises, but progress

January 8, 2013

Somewhat different from the Observatory’s report on Zimbabwe I referred to in my post of 26 November 2012, this report by a broad coalition of local NGOs (listed at the end of the document) paints a more mixed picture. The report of the Zimbabwe NGO Human Rights Forum covers the period September to december 2012.

After reflecting on the deadlock in the constitution making process, the report documents the continuing harassment of civil society and political activists that characpreviewterised the period. The operating environment for NGO’s continued to be very challenging. Police arrested and ill-treated peaceful protesters, especially the Women of Zimbabwe Arise activists. Other organisations that faced raids and arrests included the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, the Counselling Services Unit and many other civil society organisations offering vital services to vulnerable Zimbabweans. Human Rights lawyers were hampered at every turn as they tried to carry out their professional duties and protect Human Rights Defenders.

Fears of the same levels of political violence that characterised the 2008 election period were re-ignited when President Mugabe announced to the UN General Assembly that there would be a constitutional referendum in November 2012 and harmonised elections in March 2013. The news was greeted with great concern. In September 2012, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network stated that it would be logistically impossible to hold a referendum in November and elections in March. They cited disputes in finalising the new constitution, continuing political intimidation and gross inaccuracies in voters’ lists that still name ‘ghost’ electors who have long been dead. The organisation called for a number of important issues to be dealt with first. These include resourcing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, revision of the outdated Referendum Act and effecting technical changes to the Electoral Bill as well as updating and cleaning the voter’s roll. This led to the passing into law of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Amendment acts.

Sadly as 2012 drew to a close the Annual ZANU PF Congress rang a warning bell against NGO’s and, as if nothing had ever changed, within days, the police began wantonly raiding and arresting human rights organisations all over again.

Despite the setbacks narrated above, it is our view that Zimbabwe is in a better place today than it was 2008. All the credit is due to the Human Rights Defenders who have tirelessly worked on the ground as well as our regional and international partners and without whose input the country could have descended into lawlessness. The attainment of democracy is a process not an event and indeed Zimbabwe is currently in transition although that transition is fraught with unnecessary detours and compromises. However such compromises, disappointing as they may be in the short run, may aid the transitional process in the long run. A case in point is the limited temporal jurisdiction of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and Zimbabwe’s failure to ratify the Rome Statute.

Ironically a focus on ratification of the Rome Statute for some countries in transition can impede the chances of a peaceful transition. In other words whilst Zimbabwean civil society is absolutely committed to ratification, that long-term necessity should also not derail the process of transition, and this indeed calls for a judicious balancing act. ‘In other words it was important not to allow perfection to become the enemy of the good.’

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