“Impunity compounds the suffering and anguish. Under international human rights law, families and societies have a right to know the truth about what happened.” – Antonio Gueterres
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances which is observed annually on 30 August.
Enforced disappearance is a practice that is strictly prohibited under international human rights law in all circumstances. The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1992, defined enforced disappearance as the arrest, detention or abduction of persons against their will or the deprivation of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law and at the mercy of their captors.
Of concern, Zimbabwe is commemorating the day at a time when the country continues to witness cases of involuntary disappearances.
The Forum, in its first and second quarter Political and Human Rights Violations Reports covering the period January to June 2023 documented a total of six cases of involuntary disappearances. These included the enforced disappearance of prominent student leader, Gamuchirai Chaburumunda, the Organising Secretary of the student activist body, Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU). Chaburumunda, a female was on 8 June 2023 arrested by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) following the arrests of five other student activists on allegations of calling for the release of political prisoners including Job Sikhala. Her whereabouts were unknown for more than 24 hours after her alleged arrest. There were also allegations that she had been denied access to legal counsel during the intervening period. Her initial enforced disappearance, which subsequently took the form of an arrest, was viewed by human rights activists as part of a broader pattern of brutality and suppression of perceived dissenting voices just months away from the just-held 2023 Harmonised Elections in Zimbabwe.
Given the precarious political environment the country finds itself in presently in the tension-filled aftermath of the 2023 Zimbabwe Harmonised Elections, the Forum remains concerned about the possibility of cases of enforced and/or involuntary disappearances usually associated with elections as systematic abductions have been used as a key tool to exert political control.
Against this background, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum urgently calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to in all circumstances, pay due regard to international best practices, norms, and standards by:
- Ensuring the protection and promotion of and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and show this commitment through:
- Ratifying and domesticating the International Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances;
- Conducting thorough, independent, effective, and transparent investigations into all unsolved cases of enforced disappearances (including the 9 March 2015 abduction of well-known activist Itai Dzamara, who has, to date, not been heard from) and bringing suspected perpetrators to justice; and
- Paying due cognisance to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, which provides specific protections to human rights defenders by ending the harassment, ill-treatment, and intimidation of victims, witnesses of enforced disappearances, or relatives of persons who have disappeared