2012 not an election year: civic society

Zimbabwe’s civic society organisations have declared that 2012 is not an election year, but a year for credible electoral reforms.

This is the position that the civic organisations have taken to Geneva, Switzerland, for the United Nations Human Rights council’s 12th session of the universal periodic review where Zimbabwe will on October 10, 2011 present its report on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Over a dozen civil society leaders are on an advocacy mission in Geneva. Some of the groups represented are the Zimbabwe Human rights Association, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum.

A year for reform

Said Dhewa Mavhunga, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional co-ordinator: “The key message is broadly that 2012 is not an election year but must be a year for credible electoral reforms.”

President Robert Mugabe is on record as saying he is keen to see elections taking place next year, and has even said the polls should be over and done with by March.

This is in sharp contrast to the Zimbabwe government’ s 17-page report to the UN Human Rights Council UPR, prepared by the Ministry of Justice, which paints a picture of a country desiring to promote and uphold human rights for all.

The report paints a rosy picture of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. But it ascribes some glaring human rights anomalies to the “illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe”. The 15-page document, prepared by the Ministry of Justice and

to be presented by Patrick Chinamasa, is starkly different from what civil society leaders will tell the UN.

“We seek to show that the reality is a far cry from what is contained in the government report,” said Dhewa. “Different organizations will focus on their area of expertise to demonstrate the true state of human rights in Zimbabwe and to show how the country is not prepared to hold democratic elections in 2012 as President Mugabe and Zanu (PF) would want.”

Irene Petras from the Lawyers for Human Rights said it was imperative that government looked at what measures were being taken to protect the voter and the vote before, during and after the next elections.

“Is the government taking steps to facilitate voting for everyone including Zimbabweans living outside Zimbabwe or those living with disabilities?”

Hybrid electoral system

She called on the government to adopt a hybrid electoral system, reform institutions that play a role in elections, develop, implement an Electoral Code of Conduct that is legally enforceable in order to promote free and fair elections and establish a permanent independent Electoral Court to preside over all electoral matters.

“The government is encouraged to consider reforms of laws such as AIPPA, POSA, Criminal Law Code and the Broadcasting Services Act and other measures to prevent

hate speech, violations of freedom of expression, assembly and association in line with the ICCPR,” said Petras.

However, the government has come out all guns blazing on what it says are human rights positives in Zimbabwe.

Paragraph 82 of the government report reads: ‘Government opened up communication platforms in the broadcasting sector through the licensing of commercial radio broadcasting services and satellite-based subscription services.”

Said Mavhunga: “No independent commercial radio licences have ever been issued and there has been no movement at all on issuing community radio licences.

“It’s now five months since the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe finally called for applications for two commercial radio licences. Just a few days ago, BAZ

announced they would start holding public hearings on October 18th to determine the suitability of applicants for the two licences,” he said.

Criminalise torture

Petras called on government to criminalise torture in all its national laws and policies, and consider creating an independent civilian oversight body for the police and other security operatives.

Zimbabwe has created Commissions on Human Rights, Media, Anti-Corruption and Elections.

The CSO’s called on Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai to fulfil their promise to reform state institutions, in a bid to end human rights violations that have continued in the country since the formation of the unity government two and half years ago.

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