End the deceit of endless dialogue

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins Zimbabweans and the African continent in commemorating Africa Human Rights Day on 21 October 2011.

This significant day on the human rights calendar affords us an opportunity to reflect and recommit to the solemn undertaking by African leaders and African peoples to promote and safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms on our continent.

The continent has witnessed decades of numerous human rights challenges resulting from a diverse range of factors, which include colonization, racism, oppression, war, poverty, disease, corruption, and autocratic governance.

It is against this background that instruments that enforce values such as freedom, justice, equality, development and human dignity in Africa need to be implemented and respected.

While Zimbabwe initially made considerable strides towards upholding and fostering a culture of respect for human rights, particularly in relation to social rights such as education and health, it is tragic and regrettable that State and non-State actors continue to work indefatigably to deny their citizens fundamental rights which were at the core of the struggle for liberation.

Despite the existence of a power-sharing agreement, Zimbabwe still carries the dictatorial hallmarks of erosion of personal liberties, repression, torture, surveillance, an oppressive legal framework and abuse of the criminal justice system to harass, intimidate and persecute Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire.

Whilst attempts are being made to move the country forward in terms of legislative and institutional reform necessary to free the operating environment agreed under the Global Political Agreement (GPA), State security agents and other non-State actors aligned to ZANU PF continue to intentionally disrupt public hearings organised to solicit people’s views on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, the Electoral Amendment Bill and the constitution-making process.

Similar disruptions and challenges have been faced in relation to other reform efforts. Arbitrary arrests, baseless prosecutions and persecution, abuse of criminal defamation laws and insult laws continue to occur.

While the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ensures Civil and Political Rights, Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and Peoples' and Group Rights, it is catastrophic that senior government officials such as the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Patrick Chinamasa continue to reject calls to protect, promote and respect equally all rights owed to the population.

Instead, Hon. Chinamasa selectively believes that economic, social and cultural rights should form the core of the human rights agenda and explicitly rejects recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva recently to impartially apply the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly; and ensure protection against enforced disappearances, torture and political violence with impunity. His argument that all rights are related and interconnected therefore rings hollow.

Senior government officials and the State controlled media frequently label human rights activists as “subversive” and tools of the western colonial powers in an effort to undermine their work. These charges have made them vulnerable to attack by groups allied to government and delegitimize their critical work in the eyes of the public. This remains an unacceptable violation of commitments made by Zimbabwe to abide by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The deceit of endless political dialogue to stall the urgent imperative for an election in which the free will of the people is expressed and respected can no longer be tolerated.

Instead the GPA must be used as a tool to facilitate an environment and institutions that will ensure a genuine, free and fair election in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines for Democratic Elections and the AU Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections and allow for the credible return to electoral legitimacy which places effective popular participation at the centre of our choice of leaders. All political parties involved in the GPA must heed this, and take urgent action to move towards such necessary conditions.

Post published in: Politics

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