Zimbabwe: Independence Day – time for action, not just words

As Zimbabwe prepares to commemorate its Independence Day tomorrow, Amnesty International warned that continuing human rights abuses by elements within the government risk undermining the inclusive government.  

“Certain elements within the government are ordering human rights abuses and the government doesn’t seem to be willing or able to do anything to stop them,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s expert on Zimbabwe.

The organization expressed particular concern about the continued detention of three political detainees more than four months after their abduction by state security agents. They face charges widely believed to be fabricated by the previous government.

Other detainees released in March, including Jestina Mukoko, still face charges that raise doubts about the government’s commitment to ending a culture of human rights violations that characterized the previous government’s struggle against perceived opponents.

“A lot of hope is invested in this new inclusive government, and they must establish the rule of law and a climate of respect for human rights to maintain their credibility worldwide. This is a very critical phase they are in,” warned Simeon Mawanza.

Amnesty International said it was especially disappointed by the “hands-off attitude” by 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 Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.  

“As the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement, SADC and the AU have an obligation to use their influence to end human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. They are utterly failing in their responsibilities,” said Simeon Mawanza.

“They have chosen to look the other way and hope that the problems will go away. This 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.”

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 a scandal that the new government has still not fully investigated the enforced disappearances of more than 30 people last year. Nor have allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the victims been investigated by the authorities. In fact, the state appears to be protecting the perpetrators,” said Simeon Mawanza.

The organisation 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 international media to operate freely in the country.

“The new government has been in place for more than two months now. There is no excuse for measures such as the freeing of the media not to have taken place – these measures do not cost the government any money.”

Notes to editors:

The government is currently appealing to the High Court to reverse a bail order granted by the Court to political prisoners Kisimusi Dhlamini, Andrison Manyere and Gandhi Mudzingwa, who remain in custody after more than four months on charges of ‘terrorism’. They are citing a criminal code (Section 121 of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act) used in the past to delay the release of political detainees.