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Human Rights Violations by Zimbabwe Gov’t Suggest Tough Road for Democracy ahead of General Elections

By January 18, 2022No Comments

Five years after the dramatic fall of the now late Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is still being red-flagged for wanton disregard of human rights.

Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa on his appointment made impassioned commitments to undo the sordid dark past of the human rights violations of his predecessor and even crafted the mantra a “listening president”. 

Human rights activists applauded the new dawn for a country that had previously been marked by terrible acts of human rights violations.

But as observed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in their latest report, Zimbabwe’s newfound hope would quickly turn to ashes and the fire for democracy would fizzle out, as a vicious cycle of rights violations replayed itself.

A damning 2022 world report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has once again drawn attention to the wanton commission of human rights violations which are escalating by the day. 

Human Rights Watch Executive Director, Kenneth Roth

The report points out that during 2021, Zimbabwean authorities did not take concrete steps to ensure justice and accountability for serious abuses, most of which were committed by the security forces. 

“Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigations found that security forces used excessive and lethal force to crush nationwide protests in January 2019. Local groups reported that security forces fired live ammunition that killed 17 people, and uniformed soldiers raped at least 17 women during and after these protests. No security personnel has been arrested or prosecuted,” reads part of the HRW World Report for 2022.

Experts say Zimbabwe has remained highly intolerant of basic rights, peaceful dissent, and free expression. A spate of violent acts and abductions has punctuated the larger part of the new administration with Mr. Mnangagwa at its helm.

Since Mnangagwa became president, the country has continued to record cases of human rights defenders being abducted. In 2019 the United Nations disclosed 49 cases of abductions and torture were reported in the country. These went without investigations and perpetrators were never held accountable. 

The UN human rights experts have been calling on the government to “urgently prosecute and punish the perpetrators of this outrageous crime, and to immediately enforce a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for abductions and torture throughout the country” and “to bring those responsible to account.”

In total disregard of world statutes in human rights there has been no attempt to investigate and prosecute other serious violations that state security forces have committed: including violent attacks, abductions, torture, and other abuses against members of the opposition and civil society.

Human rights defenders also decry the failure by President Mnangagwa’s government to hold accountable those who have violated human rights. Survivors of torture in Mugabe’s era had been hopeful that their tormentors would finally answer for their crimes, once President Mnangagwa took over, but this has not happened.

One such case is that of Jestina Mukoko who was abducted in the middle of the night and tortured.

Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) National Director, Jestina Mukoko (C) Zimbabwe Situation

More than 12 years after her abduction and torture by suspected state agents, Mukoko, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) National Director is still having nightmares, while her abductors are still running ‘scot free’.

In 2008 Mukoko was snatched from her bed by state security agents who subjected her to torture. 

“Woke up to a nasty dream on this day years ago,” says Mukoko.

She says her biggest frustration is that the perpetrators of crimes against her are still walking scot-free.

President Mnangagwa also stands accused of failing to implement recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry, which he appointed to investigate the August 2018 post-election violence.

The Commission found that 6 people had died and 35 others were injured because of actions by state security forces. The Commission had wanted that members of the security forces responsible for abuses should be held accountable and families of those killed or who lost property be compensated. 

With a few months before another round of elections, many are anxious and worried that there will be a repeat of the 2018 orgy of violence, and the fact that none of the Motlanthe Commission’s recommendations has been honored shows a lack of respect for human rights by President Mnangagwa’s government.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) add that President Mnangagwa’s government doesn’t stop at torturing members of the opposition and civil society. According to ZLHR, the government is also using forced evictions as a weapon to rob many of their democratic rights.

Thousands of Chilonga Villagers face eviction after losing court battle (C)

Last year, the local government, Urban and Rural Development Minister, July Moyo, published a legal notice ordering thousands of people to either acquire fresh rights of use or occupation or immediately vacate approximately 12,940 hectares of Chilonga communal land in Chiredzi, southeastern Zimbabwe.

The legal notice, Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021, which the government later repealed and replaced, said the land was being set aside for lucerne grass production.

Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (C) Financial Times

Through their lawyer Tendai Biti of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) the villagers challenged their impending eviction and Sections 4 and 6 of the Communal Lands Act, which vests rural land in the hands of the President. They argued that the law was a colonial relic premised on a racist notion that an African could not own land.

Sadly, High Court judge Justice Martin Mafusire dismissed their application.

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