“Standing up for human rights in the midst of covid-19”

Today, the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Human Rights Day, which is celebrated on 10 December annually.

This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the Declaration) which has come to be a universal guide on the respect, protection, and promotion of human rights. Like many other countries, the Constitution of Zimbabwe has as embraced the provisions of the Declaration.

This year, the International Human Rights Day is being commemorated under the theme “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights”. This theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need for the world to recover and rebuild from the impact of the pandemic by ensuring that human rights-related issues are prioritised and given the necessary prominence. Prioritising human rights issues during the recovery period is key in creating equal opportunities for all and addressing the national and global weaknesses that were worsened by the pandemic.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe was characterised by a national lockdown which was imposed to curb the spread of the virus. Regrettably, there was a marked increase in cases of human rights violations which were perpetrated by the police and soldiers who were on the national lockdown enforcement duties.  According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, at least 920 human rights violations were recorded between 30 March and 18 September 2020. These violations include abductions and torture, extrajudicial killings, assaults on citizens by law enforcement officers, attacks on journalists, unlawful arrests and gunshots. This shows that while the legal framework for the respect, promotion, and protection of human rights exists in Zimbabwe, national security forces repeatedly fail to abide and fully implement it. The continued recurrence of human rights violations in Zimbabwe breeds a culture of impunity that undermines efforts to facilitate national peace and reconciliation in the country. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the failing economy, results in an untenable situation for most Zimbabweans who are living under extreme poverty and face the risk of starvation. This period has also been characterised by severe water shortages which led to several deaths after people in communities resorted to using unsafe sources of water.

As we commemorate the International Human Rights Day, the NTJWG calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to embrace the tenets and spirit of the Declaration and fully respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all its citizens in accordance to our Constitution. In particular, it is for public institutions to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations during the national lockdown are held accountable for their actions and justice is served for survivors of the violations and their families. Putting an end to impunity is the first step towards ensuring the non-recurrence of human rights violations. The NTJWG also calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to work together with local authorities to ensure the progressive realisation of the socio-economic rights of the people of Zimbabwe, noting that the continued violation of these rights is a potential cause of conflict that must be addressed urgently. It is crucial for the Government of Zimbabwe to proactively find ways to address potential causes of conflict to ensure sustainable peace in the country as the nation grapples with how to recover from the devastating effects of its violent past and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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