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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Zimbabwe, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Despite the economic situation of the country, the regional and international criticism and the 27 years Robert Mugabe had been in power, on March 30, 2007 the central committee of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) chose him as candidate for the 2008 presidential elections. It was also announced that parliamentary elections would be held in 2008.

In that respect, a campaign of intimidation, designed to destroy the structures of the opposition and the civil society and to make sure of the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections, is under way. This also implies increased repression against human rights defenders.

Furthermore, as recalled by the European Parliament, "the country's political and economic situation has now been deteriorating for eight years and Zimbabweans continue to face serious food shortages, with the World Food Programme providing emergency food aid to 1.5 million Zimbabweans in the first three months of 2007 but calculating that over 4.5 million suffer from malnutrition", with 80% of the population living below the poverty line.1

Use of restrictive legislation to impede freedoms of association and peaceful assembly

In 2007, several restrictive laws, in the first place the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), denounced by Ms. Hila Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders,2 have continued to be used to violate the freedoms of assembly, movement and association. This year the authorities have gone even further than POSA, banning public demonstrations in certain districts of Harare for three months, while POSA only authorises such restrictions for periods not exceeding one month. The ban led to massive demonstrations organised on March 11, 2007 by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, calling on the Government to show more respect for human rights, which resulted in 49 arrests. The police also used force against leaders of the political opposition and of the civil society, seriously injuring several, among them Mr. Lovemore Madhuku, President of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).3 The same day Mr. Gift Tandare, a NCA activist, was killed by the police, which also opened fire during his funeral, seriously wounding two persons.4

In addition, there are a number of administrative obstacles to the setting up of an NGO. The system provides that funds allocated to an NGO can be expropriated, and this seriously disrupts its activity and threatens its independence. When an NGO deposits money in a bank, the financial police require that it be transferred to the Federal Bank of Zimbabwe. The NGO has to solicit the Federal Bank for any activity requiring funds. Considerable time can elapse before obtaining an answer, and it can happen that the activity cannot be carried out, thereby creating a situation in which the NGO fails to satisfy the requirements of the donor. Also, the funds are released at an exchange rate fixed by the Government, and not at market rates, the Government thereby appropriating part of the funds received by the NGOs.

Continued restrictions to the freedom of the press before the 2008 elections

While journalists were continuing to work in Zimbabwe in a very repressive legislative context,5 in the run-up to the 2008 elections the control of the press was reinforced by a combination of legislative and intimidating measures targeting journalists. On August 3, 2007 President Mugabe signed the Interception of Communications Act, which authorises interception by the Government of telephone communications, e-mails and fax messages in order to protect national security, without prior authorisation by the courts. Journalists and human rights defenders are particularly vulnerable to such measures.

Also, in April 2007, the Government drew up a "black list" of 15 names of members of the opposition, journalists and human rights defenders, including Messrs. Arnold Tsunga, President of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zim Rights), Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and administrator of the radio station Voice of the People (VOP), Lovemore Madhuku and Raymond Majongwe, Secretary General of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), accused of "working hand in hand with forces hostile to Zimbabwe", and reportedly kept under close surveillance. Three journalists on the list – Messrs. Gift Phiri, Abel Mutsakani and Bill Saidi – were attacked in 2007. In July, in South Africa, three armed men fired on Mr. Mutsakani, wounding him severely, and in February 2007 Mr. Saidi was sent a bullet in an envelope. Mr. Gift Phiri was put on trial for "publication of false information" and "practice of journalism without official accreditation". The charges were dropped in July and August 2007.

Harassment of defenders denouncing forced evictions

In 2007 forced evictions and the consequences of the "Murambatsvina"6 operation remained a sensitive issue, and defenders who denounced abuses were placed under constant surveillance by the authorities. Mr. Arnold Tsunga, for instance, was arrested on his return from the World Social Forum held in Nairobi from January 20 to 25, 2007. He had taken part in a workshop entitled "Progress and obstacles in the struggle for the exigibility and justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights", and had spoken on the theme: "Resisting violations of fundamental rights – the case of mass evictions in Zimbabwe".

Arrests of defenders denouncing the economic situation

The protest movements against the deterioration of the country's economic situation and the rise in the cost of living have continued to be put down with force, as in the case of the movements initiated by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and by the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), for denouncing the rise in prices and the general deterioration of living conditions. 56 members of WOZA were arrested on April 23, 2007 and detained for two days.7 Once again POSA was used against them, on the pretext that the intention to organise a public demonstration had not been notified to the regulation authority.

In that respect, Ms. Alapini-Gansou, the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, expressed her concern at allegations she had received of acts of violence and harassment against members of WOZA during a peaceful and silent march the NGO had organised in Bulawayo on June 6 2007, for the launch of its campaign "Ten steps to a new Zimbabwe".8 Likewise, in the report she presented to the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, dedicated to freedom of peaceful assembly, Ms. Hina Jilani recalled that since 2003 she had sent six urgent appeals reporting allegations of violations that occurred during protests organised by WOZA. Ms. Jilani stated that she "remain[ed] concerned about the situation of defenders in Zimbabwe, including women defenders, as the repeated communications and statements of both experts indicate a pattern of harassment of human rights defenders that has persisted over the last few years. The shadow report on Zimbabwe to the African Commission alleges that WOZA members have been arrested on more than 20 occasions between 2003 and 2007 for engaging in peaceful demonstrations".9

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0172 of the European Parliament on Zimbabwe, April 26, 2007.

2 See Report by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders – Summary of cases submitted to governments and replies received, UN document A/HRC/4/37/Add.1, March 27, 2007.

3 See Statement by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), March 14, 2007.

4 This brutal crackdown was denounced by Ms. Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on human rights defenders in Africa, in a Press Release issued on March 28, 2007. Likewise, the Presidency of the European Union condemned "the violent break-up of a peaceful rally [...] of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, during which one participant was killed, one was injured and many [...] were arrested and in some cases abused". The EU Presidency also condemned the violent and continued repression of the freedoms of opinion and assembly, and of fundamental freedoms (See Statement by the Presidency of the European Union, March 12, 2007).

5 In July 2006, the new Criminal Code (Codification and Reform) came into force, significant ly increasing the already heavy sentences specified in POSA and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). For further information, see Annual Report 2006 of the Observatory.

6 In May 2005 the Government of Zimbabwe launched an "urban cleansing" operation known as "Murambatsvina". It was described as a programme to enforce the municipal edicts designed to put an end to all forms of "illegal activities, such as illegal sales and structures and illicit cultures", inter alia in the cities.

7 In this respect the European Parliament declared itself "deeply concerned by the news that 56 women belonging to Zimbabwe's NGO 'Women of Zimbabwe Arise' were arrested on 23 April 2007 and that ten of their babies were jailed with them" (See Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0172 of the European Parliament on Zimbabwe, April 26, 2007).

8 See Press Release by the Special Rapporteur, June 18 2007.

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