Missing activist was ‘collecting evidence’ on Mugabe crimes

Missing activist was 'collecting evidence' on Mugabe crimesHuman rights workers are going into hiding across Zimbabwe as regime launches new wave of arrestsAlex Duval Smith in Bulawayo.


A prominent Zimbabwean human rights activist abducted 12 days ago was
working on case files to be used as possible prosecution evidence
against members of President Robert Mugabe’s regime, The Observer has
learnt.

Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), is the
most prominent among 20 political and civil society activists who have
disappeared in the past six weeks.

According to fellow campaigners, Mukoko had established a network of
hundreds of monitors – mostly church people, teachers and ordinary
township dwellers – who had provided handwritten testimonies of the
campaigns of brutality carried out by Mugabe’s government. The
testimony could have been used in any future investigation of human
rights abuses by the Mugabe regime. ‘She had catalogued thousands of
incidents of murder, assault, torture, arson, and who the perpetrators
are. The work was so meticulous it could stand up in any court,’ said
one associate.

A human rights lawyer revealed that just before Mukoko’s abduction the
ZPP had shifted from cataloguing violence in townships to the organised
abuse of food aid, where people were forced to support Mugabe in return
for maize deliveries. ‘That upcoming report was going to be extremely
embarrassing for the ruling party,’ said the lawyer.

Lawyers and opposition politicians believe the abduction of Mukoko was
carried out as part of a new campaign by elements in the ruling party
to intimidate and hinder the work of those gathering incriminating
evidence of human rights violations in the country. Most leading human
rights figures have in recent days gone into hiding. The ZPP has closed
and the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango)
has warned that ‘there are reasons to fear for the safety of every
activist in the land’.

At about 5am on 3 December, 15 armed men wearing civilian clothing
burst into the home of Mukoko in Norton, 25 miles from the capital,
Harare. Her 15-year-old son watched as the men, who claimed to be
police officers, beat up a gardener, then bundled her, barefoot and
dressed only in her pyjamas, into a waiting Mazda 323.

Within days, other abductions were carried out by groups of between six
and nine armed men in civilian clothes using unmarked vehicles without
number plates. On 5 December Zacharia Nkomo, 33, brother of leading
human rights lawyer Harrison Nkomo, was taken from his home in Masvingo.

Three days later Brodrick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo, both of the ZPP,
were abducted in Harare. And on 10 December, Gandhi Mudzwinga, a close
associate of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was kidnapped near
Harare.

The ZPP, which was formed in 2000 and is funded by the Dutch and
Canadian governments, is one of the most respected groups in Zimbabwean
civil society. Its reports have been made available to African and
Western embassies in Harare and used in confidential diplomatic
briefing documents.

They are likely to have been among documents seen by the European Union
before it added 11 military, police and ruling party officials to its
latest travel blacklist, made official last Monday.

Lawyer Otto Saki said he and his colleagues have made desperate
attempts to establish Mukoko’s whereabouts. ‘We struggled to find a
judge to hear our application. Three days after her abduction, a judge
we finally managed to speak to in the High Court car park told us it
would be heard on Monday, 8 December.

‘A week after she was taken, we obtained an order that the police
search for Jestina in all places of detention where they have
jurisdiction – in other words, everywhere except military compounds.
But we have no news and the police say they do not have her.’

Lawyers say the last time the courts acted so evasively was in April –
just after the first round of presidential elections – when Movement
for Democratic Change activist Tonderai Ndira was abducted.Ndira was
later found murdered.

JB Nkatazo of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace said
Mutoko’s abduction sent ‘cold shivers’ down the spines of all
Zimbabwean activists. ‘The new disappearances send a clear message to
civil society that we will be picked up one by one,’ said Nkatazo.

‘We must fear the worst for Mukoko,’ said Effie Ncube, 35, of the
Masakhaneni Projects Trust for victims of violence. ‘If she has been
picked up and tortured, that means she also knows who her assailants
were.’ Paying tribute to her courage, he said: ‘We last sat together
two weeks ago. She understood the nature of the regime and the risks
she was taking. She was documenting cases of human rights abuses to
liberate Zimbabweans but also to liberate Mugabe. She paraphrased
Nelson Mandela who said the South African transition was about
liberating the racists.’

He added: ‘What we do is very risky because the regime’s attitude is
that we are giving information to the CIA or to MI6. Mugabe’s rhetoric
is calculated to set African governments against Europeans, and so we,
as civil society, are viewed as agents of Western imperialism.’

One of the greatest fears of Mugabe and those involved in this year’s
election-related violence is that the UN Security Council will call for
an International Criminal Court investigation, as it did over Sudanese
President Omar el-Bashir’s involvement in the Darfur killings.

Statements in the past week by Mugabe and his aides provide clear
evidence of the regime’s paranoia. Presidential spokesman George
Charamba told the state-run Herald newspaper that Western countries
were planning to ‘bring Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council by
claiming the cholera epidemic and food shortages have incapacitated the
government’.

On Friday, in a bizarre effort to parry criticism of the regime at
tomorrow’s meeting in New York, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu
said: ‘Gordon Brown must be taken to the United Nations Security
Council for being a threat to world peace and planting cholera and
anthrax to invade Zimbabwe.’

But Minister for Africa Lord Malloch-Brown said the meeting would focus
on the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, especially concerns that UN
medical officials have been denied access to the country to assess the
cholera outbreak.

‘I don’t see the prospect of an international tribunal coming up
tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Mugabe is in a state of exaggerated paranoia. The
arrests of the human rights activists are part of that. But it is
certainly the case that Mugabe’s actions this year have exposed him as
never before. The day he falls he has huge future vulnerability.’

guardian.co.uk

Post published in: Politics

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