Zimbabwe: UN rights chief concerned over detentions for discussing Tunisia and Egypt
|Publisher||UN News Service|
|Publication Date||1 March 2011|
|Cite as||UN News Service, Zimbabwe: UN rights chief concerned over detentions for discussing Tunisia and Egypt, 1 March 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d7089f31e.html [accessed 10 October 2015]|
The United Nations top human rights official today expressed deep concern over the illegal detention and reported ill-treatment of 45 members of civil society in Zimbabwe who have allegedly been charged with treason for discussing recent events in Egypt and Tunisia.
"As many people in North Africa have been pointing out increasingly loudly and clearly, there is no true democracy without freedom of expression and assembly," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a press release. "It is therefore both deeply ironic and disturbing that, in Zimbabwe, activists are being arrested and mistreated simply for discussing North Africans' efforts to bring about change through largely peaceful protests."
Mass protests by citizens demanding greater democracy and respect of human rights in Tunisia and Egypt, in January and February respectively, forced the two countries' heads of state to vacate their positions after decades in power. In the wake of these popular uprisings, protests calling for democratic change have also taken place in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.
On 19 February, Zimbabwean police arrested the coordinator of the International Socialist Organisation and 44 other social justice and human rights activists who were attending a roundtable focused on the developments in Tunisia and Egypt. The activists have reportedly been charged with treason and several of them claim to have been beaten since being taken into custody.
"These arrests appear to be part of a growing crackdown on civil society and members of the political opposition, and are a clear sign that the establishment of a consolidated democracy in Zimbabwe is still very far from assured," Ms. Pillay said. "All those who are being illegally held in detention should be released without delay. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are rights guaranteed under Zimbabwean and international law."
The High Commissioner noted that respect for diversity of political opinion is described as "the bedrock of democracy and good governance" in the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) - the document that established the framework for the current Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe.
Ms. Pillay called on Zimbabwe's authorities "to fulfil its promise to 'put an end to the polarization, divisions, conflict and intolerance' that have caused so much damage to the fundamental fabric of what could and should be a peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation," as stipulated in the GPA.
"I see these unwarranted arrests as a serious step backwards, especially with elections possibly taking place later this year," she said. "The government needs to take measures, beginning with the release of these activists, to restore some faith in the country's political processes."