Zimbabwe independence celebrations overshadowed by human rights abuses

As Zimbabwe commemorates 29 years of independence, continued human rights abuses are being committed by elements within the country’s new inclusive government.

Of particular concern, according to Amnesty International, is the continued imprisonment of political prisoners, the enforced disappearance of human rights and political activists and tight restrictions on both local and foreign media.

The inclusive government revealed a 100-day renewal plan for the country on 5 April. The plan, which includes restoring human rights and relaxing media regulations, is meant to lead to a new constitution by 2010.

For the time being, though, these abuses go unpunished. The government is either unable or unwilling to restore the rule of law and to ensure that those bent on maintaining a culture of impunity are held accountable.

Three political prisoners face continued detention more than four months after their abduction by state security agents. Kisimusi Dhlamini, Andrison Manyere and Gandhi Mudzingwa are held on charges of terrorism.

“They face charges widely believed to be fabricated by the previous government,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s expert on Zimbabwe.

“Other former detainees, including Jestina Mukoko, who were released in March, continue to face similar charges raising doubts on the government’s commitment to ending a culture of human rights violations used by the previous government against perceived opponents.”

The Attorney General’s office is appealing to the Supreme Court to have the bail order for the three political prisoners reversed. The appeal comes despite assurances from Welshman Ncube, chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), that the state would not oppose the granting of bail.

“What the AG’s office is doing appears to be an abuse of Section 121 of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act to extend the period of detention of political prisoners,” said Simeon Mawanza. “While Section 121 gives the state seven days to lodge an appeal, in the past it has been used as a tactic to delay releasing political detainees.”

Amnesty International also criticised the government for failing to investigate reports of enforced disappearances of human rights and political activists allegedly carried out by state agents between October and December 2008.

“It is inexcusable that the government has not fully investigated the enforced disappearances, a crime under international law, of more than 30 people last year,” said Simeon Mawanza. “Nor have allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the victims been investigated by the authorities. Conversely, the state appears to be protecting the perpetrators.”

The organization also challenged the government to live up to its promise to free the media by licensing local media such as the banned Daily News and community radio station Radio Dialogue and by allowing in international media to operate in the country.

“The inclusive government needs to show that they are not making empty promises. Many of the measures being called for do not cost the government money – there’s no excuse not to take immediate action,” said Simeon Mawanza.

Amnesty International said it was disappointed by the “hands off attitude” of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) when it is clear that the letter and spirit of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was being undermined by elements in President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

“As the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement, SADC and the AU are failing to use their political influence to end human rights abuses in Zimbabwe,” said Simeon Mawanza. “They have chosen to look the other way and hope that the problems will go away. Such action is helping to strengthen the hand of those who fear that the success of this government will lead to their being held accountable for past human rights violations.”

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was sworn in as prime minister in February 2009. This followed months of wrangling over a power-sharing agreement originally signed with Mr Mugabe in September 2008.