Publication of a mission report on the situation of human rights defenders

A few days before the European Union is set to decide whether to renew sanctions against Zimbabwe (1), the FIDH and OMCT, in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, have released a report titled «Evaluation mission 2003: systematic repression of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe».

The report highlights the growing abuses suffered by human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, noting that since the 2002 presidential elections, which maintained Robert Mugabe in office as Head of State, the pressure on human rights defenders has not only significantly increased, but also develop more subtle and sophisticated forms of oppression.(2)

In addition to direct threats and pressure on human rights defenders, the authorities use a wide range of legal provisions to silence them. This strategy is notably characterized by the implementation of a law limiting freedom of association, a law that has not been used in the country until recently(3); the drafting of a very restrictive law governing the work of NGOs; and the use of laws aimed at prohibiting any criticism of Government officials and suppressing freedoms of assembly and demonstration, under the pretext of maintaining public order(4).

Human rights defenders, including members of NGOs, lawyers, magistrates, journalists or trade unionists, are constantly harassed and subjected to violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, and fiscal pressure or administrative sanctions. For instance, on June 6, 2003, members of ZANU-PF, the ruling party of President Mugabe, abducted and tortured a group of employees of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust. The employees were handed over to the police station, where they were detained for 3 days, without being informed of the charges against them.

On February 4, several hundred of members of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a forum of independent NGOs, were ill-treated by the police, whilst they were demonstrating before the Parliament of Harare, calling for a constitutional reform. More than 150 persons were injured, including the President of NCA, Mr Lovemore Madhuku. And 116 demonstrators were arrested and detained at the Harare central police station, accused of having organised an illegal demonstration. On February 11the European Union publicly denounced the violent repression of this peaceful demonstration.

The authorities of Zimbabwe openly violate freedoms of expression, of assembly and of demonstration, which are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified by Zimbabwe, as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted on 1998.

The Observatory urges the authorities of Zimbabwe to:

1/ Immediately put an end to any kind of harassment and reprisals against all human rights defenders;

2/ Ensure that all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe are able to pursue freely their activities and in particular, ensure that the authorities respect freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly, guaranteed notably by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which have been ratified by Zimbabwe;

3/ Publicly recognize the important role human rights defenders play in the construction of the Rule of Law and democracy, and guarantee the respect of the Declaration on human rights defenders, adopted by the General assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1998;

4/ Immediately engage impartial and exhaustive investigations on all cases of violence perpetrated against human rights defenders, in order to identify their authors, to prosecute them and to judge them in conformity with law;

5/ Revise legislation to put it in conformity with international human rights standards, in particular the provisions of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO Act);

6/ Guarantee the independence of the judiciary;

7/ Give a positive answer to the request made by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on human rights defenders in 2003, to visit Zimbabwe and enquire into the situation of human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory also urges:

- The European Union, to maintain and renew the targeted sanctions adopted by the European Union in February 2002, as done in February 2003, and to increase support for human rights NGOs and human defenders;

- The United Nations, to adopt, at the March 2004 session of the Human Rights Commission, a resolution on Zimbabwe, condemning human rights violations perpetrated by the regime, in particular those targeting human rights defenders;

- The Africain Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to give particular attention to the situation of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe and in particular to adopt, on the occasion of the next session of the Commission in May 2004, a resolution on this situation;

- The African Union, to adopt, on the occasion of the next session of the AU Conference which will take place in July 2004, a decision condemning the repression directed at human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

(1) On 18 February 2002, Ministers of foreign affairs of the Union decided to sanction Zimbabwe by adopting a series of mesures. Therefore, the assets in Europe of the leaders of Zimbabwe were frozen and the latter are forbidden to enter the European Union. Moreover, an embargo on the supplying of weapons and military equipment was put on. Those sanctions were renewed on February 2003.

(2) For more information, see the Observatory report published on February 2003 « Onslaught against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe in 2002 ».

(3) The Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO Act).

(4) The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

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