Run-up to Zimbabwe’s July 31 General Elections. 20 days to ensure a free, fair, transparent and peaceful process

09/07/2013
Press release
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Ahead of the holding, on July 31, 2013, of general elections in Zimbabwe, and in a context where political, institutional, financial and security challenges remain outstanding, FIDH and its member organisation, Zimrights, express concerns with regard to the sensitive political climate and urge the Zimbabwean authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure a free, fair, transparent and peaceful process.

On July 4th 2013, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe confirmed that General Elections will be held on July 31st, 2013, despite serious concerns regarding the country’s level of preparedness. The little time remaining for proper voter education and registration, the lack of significant reforms within the media, the judiciary and security sectors and the so far inefficiency of the oversight mechanisms recently established, are among the challenges to be faced with before the holding of a regular process. These elections being the first to be held since the politically-instigated violence that erupted during the March-June 2008 polls, such prerequisites are of the utmost importance.

Elections in Zimbabwe have been often characterised by poor level of preparedness which systematically led to malpractices, serious human rights abuses, political divisions and institutional crisis. Ahead of the forthcoming polls, voter’s effective ability to exercise their civil and political rights freely and without fear of intimidation and violence must not be considered as optional. We urge Zimbabwean authorities to satisfy these rights unconditionally ”, declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

The forthcoming general elections will be held in a context where major political and institutional reforms contained in the 2008 Global Political Agreement are yet to be effectively carried through. In the absence of such reforms, Zimbabwean authorities, along with political parties and candidates, must send clear and public messages on their commitments to guarantee free and fair elections. This is essential to the credibility of the entire process ” declared Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice President, Ag. Deputy Executive Director (Programs) at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI – Uganda).

Zimbabwe has a long history of election-related violence which has taken an unprecedented form in 2008 when hundreds of civilians were victims of serious human rights abuses including summary executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture, rapes, arbitrary arrests and detentions, forced displacements, threats and other forms of intimidation. These violations have to a large extent remained unpunished, Zimbabwe having failed to bring those responsible to account. In the current pre-electoral context, this legacy of violence and impunity rises expectations towards voter’s effective ability to exercise their rights in a peaceful environment.

Political figures have the responsibility to ensure that history of violence and impunity does not repeat itself. Security and police services, which have always suffered from high level of politicisation, must fully abide by the provisions of our new Constitution providing for impartiality, professionalism, non-partisanship and respect for fundamental rights. Along with party supporters, they must be fully aware that any act of violence could lead to prosecutions ” declared Okay Machisa, Executive Director of Zimrights.

Respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, access to information, personal liberty and security, freedom to campaign and equal access to state-owned media, constitute other imperatives to the holding of a regular process. Independent journalists and human rights defenders must be allowed to carry out their activities without fear of being arbitrarily arrested and detained, threatened or harassed. FIDH and Zimrights call on the Zimbabwean authorities to take immediate measures to ensure that existing repressive laws – including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) –which have been previously used to silent dissenting voices, are immediately repealed. Besides, our organisations call on state-owned media to abide by provisions of the new Constitution by demonstrating professionalism and impartiality and by refraining from inciting violence and advocating for hatred and hate speech.

Our organisations further call on the full independence, impartiality and efficiency of electoral oversight mechanisms, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC). Pursuant to provisions of the Electoral amendment Act (2012), both institutions are provided with investigative powers over politically-motivated acts of violence that may occur in the course of electoral processes. Criticisms that arose with regard to their effective impartiality and their insufficient financial resources, however cast serious doubts on their ability to carry out their mandate with efficiency. It is of the utmost importance that these challenges are addressed without further delay. In parallel, institutions in charge of hearing and determining electoral disputes, in particular the Constitutional Court, must equally respect the provisions of the Constitution providing for their non-partisanship and effectiveness.

High-stakes elections are about to be held in Zimbabwe. Uncertainties with regard to our security, the regularity of the process, or the ability of oversight mechanisms to carry out their mandates, require strong involvement from the international community. So as to prevent our country from sinking into chaos, with de facto consequences on the sub-region, messages must be sent and arrangements must be made ” declared Arnold Tsunga, FIDH Deputy Secretary General, member of Zimrights.

FIDH and Zimrights call on the international community, and in particular the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), as the main guarantors of the GPA, to publicly call on Zimbabwean authorities, political aspirants and other relevant stakeholders, to abide by their national and international obligations with regard to the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections. Full observance for the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights must be guaranteed. SADC and AU should also publicly stress the importance of accountability as a deterrent to further violence and as a pre-condition to Zimbabwe’s ability to embrace long-lasting peace, stability and good governance. Both institutions, which have already deployed election observers in the country should ensure that these observers are adequately equipped and organised to cover the situation in the entire country and to activate preventive and responsive measures in the event of the commission of violations throughout the electoral process.

FIDH and Zimrights further call on the Zimbabwean authorities to allow independent observers to monitor the process and to guarantee their right to do so without fear of being harassed or threatened.

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