Zimbabwe: Rights Reform Vital to Lasting Stability

For Immediate Release

Zimbabwe: Rights Reform Vital to Lasting Stability

Power-Sharing Deal Should End Abuses, Bring Justice

JOHANNESBURG - Any transition to democracy following the power-sharing agreement in
Zimbabwe will remain fragile unless the political leadership takes
steps to address human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
Any deal should immediately end ongoing violations and hold to account
those responsible for past abuses.

"Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF must show their commitment to the
power-sharing agreement by bringing about an immediate end to abuses,"
said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "They
should release political prisoners, dismantle torture camps set up
around the elections and disarm ZANU-PF party members and its allies."
 
 

Negotiations between Zimbabwe's main political parties -
the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)
and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) - have not
brought an end to abuses. In August 2008, police arrested six MDC
parliamentarians on what Human Rights Watch believes are politically
motivated charges. Bednock Nyaude, Shua Mudiwa, Mathias Mlambo, Pearson
Mungofa, Eliah Jembere, and Trevor Saruwaka were arrested in Harare
during the opening of parliament. The parliamentarians were recently
released on bail.  
 

ZANU-PF supporters, government-backed "war veterans" and
"youth militia" continue to terrorize Zimbabweans in rural areas. The
government has failed to dismantle the torture camps that it
established in the immediate aftermath of the March 29, 2008 general
elections. Despite lifting a three-month ban on operations by local and
international humanitarian agencies, the government has tightened its
control over their operations. If they wish to operate in a specific
area, they must first get permission and a memorandum of understanding
from the relevant government ministry. The restrictive government
controls have left the delivery of humanitarian assistance open to
manipulation by government agents and local ZANU-PF officials.  
 

Zimbabwe's long history of impunity for politically
motivated crimes has contributed to the current crisis. Those who
committed past abuses have remained free to carry out further acts of
violence and intimidation. Supporters and officials of ZANU-PF, army
officials, "war veterans," and "youth militia" have been implicated in
the killing of at least 163 people and the beating and torture of more
than 5,000 others over the past four months. Tens of thousands of
Zimbabweans have fled the violence that has plagued the country since
the March 29 elections.
 
 

Human Rights Watch called for the establishment of an
independent commission of inquiry to investigate past and present
abuses and for the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Government and party officials implicated in abuses should not be
included in any future government, Human Rights Watch said.  
  Human Rights Watch called on Zimbabwe's political
leadership to take urgent measures over the next 60 days to address
endemic impunity and strengthen institutional reform to demonstrate
their commitment to real change, including:

  • Review and repeal repressive laws;
  •  

  • Restore the justice system;
  •  

  • End arbitrary arrest and detention; and
  • A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

     

  • Address problems with the electoral process.

Repressive laws
  In
the past few years, the government of Zimbabwe has instituted a raft of
repressive laws that violate the rights of Zimbabweans to freedom of
expression, association, and assembly. These include the Access to
Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and
Security Act, the Criminal Law (Codification) Act, and the
Miscellaneous Offences Act. Human Rights Watch said that Zimbabwe's
political leadership should take immediate steps to repeal these laws,
and together with nongovernmental human rights organizations institute
a comprehensive process of review of all laws in force, with a view to
the repeal or amendment of those that do not comply with international
human rights standards.
 
 

The justice system
  Zimbabwe's judiciary and
police force have been severely compromised under the current
government. The police are responsible for widespread violations,
including harassment, threats and violence against opposition
supporters and human rights activists, and torture and other
mistreatment. In the past four months, police have routinely refused to
take action against ZANU-PF supporters and militia implicated in
political violence. Human Rights Watch research over the past eight
years found that public confidence in the judiciary and police -
especially with respect to independence and impartiality - has been
progressively eroded.  
 

Starting in 2000, the government of Zimbabwe began an
onslaught on the judiciary that included physical and verbal attacks
against judges, and bribes to compromise the impartiality, and
undermine the work of, the judiciary. A new government needs to focus
on these and other issues relating to the administration of justice to
help restore respect for human rights and the rule of law - respect
that is essential not only for the rights of Zimbabweans, but also to
promote the external investment that is necessary to bring Zimbabwe out
of its current economic crisis.
 
 

Arbitrary arrest and detention
  The arrest of six MDC parliamentarians in August reflects a wider problem of arbitrary arrest and detention in Zimbabwe.
Police often arrest opposition activists, journalists and human rights
defenders without evidence, detain them without charge beyond the
48-hour limit, and deny them bail or access to their lawyers or
relatives. These arrests are an ongoing attempt by the current government to intimidate and harass its opponents and critics.
These and other politically motivated cases need to be reviewed
immediately. Those held without charge or who have been charged with
offenses that violate their basic rights should be promptly released.
Persons who have been charged with legally cognizable offenses should
be promptly brought to trial before courts that meet international fair
trial standards.  
 

Problems with the electoral process
  Human
Rights Watch documented serious flaws with Zimbabwe's electoral process
during the March 29 elections and the presidential runoff on June 27.
These included government-instigated
violence, intimidation and threats against opposition candidates and
party members, lack of judicial independence, restrictions on the
media, lack of independence of the electoral commission and related
personnel, manipulation of government-subsidized food, and concerns
about pre-poll rigging
. The political leadership should work with
national and international organizations to address these issues to
ensure that the next elections in Zimbabwe represent a genuinely free
and fair electoral process, Human Rights Watch said.
 
 

"The power-sharing agreement should ensure justice for
past and present human rights abuses and correct the systemic failures
of governance in Zimbabwe," Gagnon said. "A political agreement built
on impunity is unlikely to last - and may well serve as an invitation
to more atrocities in the future." 

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