Zimbabwe government fails human rights test

The government has failed a human rights appraisal conducted by 27 local and influential civil society organisations (CSO)’s.

This is the “verdict” of 27 CSO’s in a document entitled the “Advocacy Charter” summing up in detail the human rights track record of the country's coalition government.

The CSO’s including the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the coalition government has failed to implement its own declared objectives on key issues like human rights, ending torture, freedom of expression and assembly, relations with labour and trade unions other commitments.

According to the Advocacy Charter, which was prepared by local civil society organisations in relation to the government’s National Report, Zimbabwe has not ratified all the outstanding human rights treaties and their Optional Protocols such the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Cruel or Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances.

The government has also not ratified the Optional Protocols to Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic Social Cultural Rights and the Convention Rights of the Child.

The CSO’s noted that although the government had created commissions on human rights, the media, anti-corruption and elections no measures were put in place to ensure that the legislative framework for the independent commissions comply with the international norms and standards and to address human rights abuses which were committed over the last four years.

The civil society organisations criticised the government for failing to adhere to the recommendations of the United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Human Settlement, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka to ensure that victims of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina have access to housing.

Although the Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, the CSO’s contended that the government had not taken any serious steps to criminalise torture in all of its laws and fully corporate with the United Nations thematic mechanisms on torture.

In their three page assessment forming the Advocacy Charter, the CSO’s observed that the Zimbabwe government’s National Report is silent on arbitrary arrests and detention. They demanded to be upraised of the measures that the government is taking to prevent the arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens in particular Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and members of Civil Society Organisations during peaceful demonstrations, or when they are conducting their activities.

With regard to elections, the CSO’s observed that the government has in recent elections disenfranchised several Zimbabweans living outside the country and people living with disabilities while the airwaves continue to be closed to independent broadcasters despite the adoption of some cosmetic media reforms by the coalition government.

Zimbabwean CSO’s also noted that the government had done very little to reduce overcrowding in prisons and improving access to adequate health services for all inmates, though in its National Report it stated that the rights of prisoners were protected by the country’s legislation in line with international standards.

Of concern to the CSO’s was the government’s lethargic attempt to facilitate free access to primary education to satisfy the Millennium Development Goals and to ensure the provision of quality education.

As part of their recommendations, the CSO’s urged the government to criminalise torture in all its national laws and policies and to consider creating an independent civilian oversight body for the police and other state security operatives and adopt other measures to prevent incidents of torture.

As remedy to ensuring universal access to education and increase the country’s literacy rate which in recent years took a knock, the civil society organisations recommended the incorporation of all social, economic and cultural rights in the national laws and collaboration with United Nations agencies and other stakeholders to fully implement the Millennium Development Goals on Access to Education, Health and other Social and Economic rights. The government should also consider measures to improve working conditions for education and health workers to ensure good service delivery in these sectors.

With regard to elections, the government was implored to adopt a hybrid electoral system, reform institutions that play a role in elections, develop and 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, the CSO’s said should consider incorporating the UN Declaration on the Human Rights Defenders in its national laws and fully implement recommendations of the UN mechanisms to prevent unwarranted deprivation of liberty.

In order to ensure citizens’ rights to a fair trial and access to justice in the country’s legal system, the CSO’s urged the government to consider creating an independent prosecuting authority according to the UN guidelines and fully implement the right to fair trial for all citizens.

Zimbabwe’s compliance with its international obligations is scheduled to be scrutinised by the global community of nations on Monday 10 October 2011. The government has produced its National Report which it will present at the UPR session; local and international CSOs have submitted several Stakeholder Reports to assist the UNHRC in assessing the accuracy of this National Report.

Editors’ Note

The Advocacy Charter is a guideline for States and other stakeholders who wish to engage the government of Zimbabwe on issues and concerns via the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Advocacy Charter makes recommendations which stakeholders hope the government will implement to improve the situation of human rights in the country. Stakeholders hope that the government in consultation with stakeholders will seriously work on recommendations suggested to address issues raised.

The UPR is a unique human rights mechanism of the UNHRC aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground in each of the UN Member States. Under this mechanism, the human rights situation of all UN member States is reviewed every 4 years. At each of its meetings the Council devotes much of its time to consideration of country reports from the process of review in which every UN member State has agreed to participate.

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