Human rights organisations urge SADC to address violations

Three local and international human rights organisations today urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to address human rights violations among its member states in order to improve people’s lives.

SADC heads of State and government will meet for the bloc’s 34th summit in Victoria Fall between August 17 and 18 when Zimbabwe will take over the chairmanship from Malawi.

In a joint statement, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there were “serious” human rights concerns in Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“SADC has been criticized for its laxity on making human rights compliance within its member states a priority. It is important to address the issue for the sake of the SADC reputation, the organizations said.

“Under Zimbabwe’s leadership, SADC should press for human rights improvement across the sub-region, particularly in Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, and Zambia,’ read the joint statement.

The organisations regretted that Zimbabwe was taking over the chairmanship from Malawi at a time it still enforced laws that contravened the new constitution adopted in May last year while there was no progress to address past political violence.

Dzimbabwe Chimbga, ZLHR projects manager urged SADC to ensure Zimbabwe aligned its laws with the new constitution.

“SADC’s commitment to human rights will come into question if Zimbabwe, as chair of the regional body, does not expedite the process of aligning its laws with the constitution and state institutions do not live up to the regional and international best practices,” said Chimbga.

The Zimbabwean government was accused of failing to address fundamental economic and social rights as many people still had little access to potable water and sanitation services.

Deprose Muchena, the AI director for southern Africa said SADC must “strive to create conditions for all to enjoy their economic, social, civil and political rights.”

He added that the leadership of the regional bloc should also promote the needs of ordinary people and ensure adherence to international human rights standards.

The three organisations noted that, in Angola, government was limiting the rights of freedom of expression and assembly despite the constitution providing for that.

“The (Angolan) government has pursued numerous criminal defamation lawsuits against outspoken journalists and activists, while using excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation to prevent peaceful anti-government protests, strikes, and other gatherings.

“Limited independent media, self-censorship, and government repression already restrict free expression in Angola… Only 3 per cent of the population has access to the Internet and social media, the main channels for commenting on government policies,” read the statement by ZLHR, AI and HRW.

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The human rights groups urged SADC to ensure that Malawi ended discrimination against sexual minorities and promote gender equality and the protection of women’s rights, in addition to boosting economic and social rights.

Swaziland came under attack for a “serious” lack of respect for human rights, among them torture, unfair trials, freedom of expression and that of association.

“The observance of human rights requirements has steadily declined in Zambia since the Patriotic Front government came into power in 2011.

The constitution-making process has stalled and laws have been proposed to restrict operations of non-governmental organizations

(and) opposition parties are being targeted with politically motivated prosecutions,” added the rights groups.

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