Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 17:20 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Zimbabwe, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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

In 2008, Zimbabwe has experienced a major crisis linked to its national elections. The violence that culminated during the March 29 elections – with summary executions and enforced disappearances of political opponents – continued under other forms after the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), for the first time since the independence of the country, lost control of Parliament to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In addition, the results of the first round of the presidential elections – held on the same day and withheld for over a month1 – gave MDC leader Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai 47.9% against 43.2% for Mr. Robert Mugabe. The run up to the second round of the presidential election, scheduled for June 27, 2008, saw a generalisation of the use of force and acts of violence including arbitrary arrests and detentions, death threats, disappearances, acts of ill-treatment and torture, intimidation, visits and breakdown of offices perpetrated by the army, Government-backed militias and ZANU-PF supporters. Their objective was to silence human rights defenders, NGOs and journalists reporting on the irregularities noticed in the framework of the electoral process and on the deteriorating human rights situation, as well as political opponents and ordinary citizens perceived as supporting the opposition.

On June 22, 2008, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai announced his decision to withdraw from the poll to curb the politically instigated violence, leading to the "re-election" of Robert Mugabe as a sole candidate five days later. Mr. Mugabe's re-election was considered as illegitimate by a number of international observers.2 With the mediation of the South African Development Community (SADC), a power-sharing agreement on the formation of a new Government was reached on September 15, 2008 between ZANU-PF and the opposition leaders of the two factions of the MDC, Messrs. Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara. However, no significant progress was made leading to a political turmoil that left the country in a situation of vacuum with no Government. State violence and a devastated economy, with inflation rates reaching the world's highest rate3 and severe shortages of food and basic services4 remained the order of the day as of the end of 2008.

In view of the gravity of the situation in December, the United Nations and Commonwealth countries urged international action on Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis in view of the fact that "nearly six million people require emergency food aid and that the outbreak of cholera has killed hundreds in Zimbabwe and now spread to its neighbours".5 They warned of the collapse of essential services, such as health, sanitation and education. In an attempt to stop the circulation of information on Zimbabwe, on December 12, the Permanent Secretary for Information and Publicity Mr. Charamba threatened to ban accredited foreign offices or local reporters working for foreign news organisations accusing them of embarking on a propaganda assault against Zimbabwe.6 According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the crisis was compounded by the use of unjustified force by the authorities in response to peaceful demonstrations and the recent abductions of human rights defenders.7

Repression faced by human rights defenders monitoring the election process and denouncing the climate of political violence

Following the pre-election campaign of intimidation, the already precarious situation of human rights defenders deteriorated after the results of the March 29 poll were made public. By the end of June 2008, the Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on Human Rights Defenders explained that there had not been a single day without her being informed of a violation of their rights including threats, attacks, arrests and harassment.8

In 2008, the usual pattern of repression of peaceful demonstrations applied to demonstrations linked to the monitoring of the elections. For instance on May 28, 2008, 13 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and a member of Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) were arrested in Harare while demonstrating against the wave of political violence in front of the Zambian Embassy. Ms. Jennifer Williams, WOZA National Coordinator, and her deputy Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu were granted bail on July 3, 2008 after spending a considerable period of time in remand prison. The 14 defenders were all charged with "distributing materials likely to cause a breach of the peace" under Section 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. After several postponements of the trial, the 14 defenders who were to appear before Harare Magistrate's Court on October 15, 2008 were all removed off remand by the Magistrate because the State was not ready to prosecute.

Furthermore, on December 3, 2008, a group of 15 unidentified armed men abducted Ms. Jestina Mukoko, Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) and Board Member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, from her home. Ms. Mukoko had been denouncing political violence. After almost three weeks during which her whereabouts were unknown, she appeared before the Harare Magistrates Courts on December 24, 2008 with eight other accused on charges of "treason", allegedly arising from recruiting people for banditry training to overthrow the Government, which carries a potential death sentence in the event of conviction. The appeals made by the lawyers to the High Court to grant her bail were vain as the State challenged the Court decision through an appeal to the High Court and she was taken to Chikurubi maximum security prison, where she remained as of the end of 2008.

Obstacles to freedom of association

Visits and breakdown of offices

In 2008, several human rights organisations had to close their offices following attacks and threats to their members, and operations of international NGOs were forcibly suspended by Government, thereby undermining efforts to bring human rights violations to the attention of the international community.9 In this regard, on June 11, 2008, uniformed members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police forced the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) Matebeleland south office to close, on the grounds that NGOs must not be operating as decided by a recent directive of the Government. The day before, ZANU-PF militias had ordered the closure of the NCA office in Masvingo, following the shuttering of the windows of the premises on June 6, 2008.

Moreover, one of the common tactics used by the Central Intelligence Organisation to intimidate human rights defenders and spread fear among them was to put human rights defenders under surveillance, visiting their offices and tapping their telephone lines. In the electoral context, acts of repression of this kind intensified. For example, in April 2008, national police officers raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) as well as the house of its Director, Ms. Chipfunde-Vava, to search for subversive documents. They confiscated computers and other materials. Likewise, on June 9, 2008, ZANU-PF members and war veterans stormed into the Gokwe offices of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), ransacked the office, grabbed a number of documents that they took away with them, and ordered that the union ceases its business. Two days before, Mr. Moses Mhaka, PTUZ Coordinator for Gokwe, had been severely beaten up by the same persons.

Hindered access to financial resources and restriction on bank transactions

In 2008, the Government continued to control financial resources of human rights NGOs through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ). For instance, in early 2008, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) had to wait for two months in order to undertake a programme because they had not received their money from the RBZ.10

Repression against defenders denouncing the ravages of the economic crises on the population

With the current economic crisis and shortage of food and fuel supplies in Zimbabwe, the majority of the population in the country – particularly in the rural areas – have been heavily dependant on food aid and supplies according to quotas provided by the Government and the other relevant agencies controlled by the Government. Defenders reporting on this situation were not only repressed, but the Government also used the denial of food supply and other basic services as a weapon against them. This was particularly the case for members of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign and members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), whom representatives reported in January 2008 that the Zimbabwean officials had informed them that suspected supporters of ZCTU usually received less food than the average population, and that they would have to distant themselves from such organisations if they wanted to receive food supplies according to the official quotas.

In addition, peaceful demonstrations to denounce the alarming economic and social situation led to arrests and violence, as was the case for instance on October 16, 2008, when a march of about 200 people organised by WOZA was repressed, resulting in the arrest of nine members, including the two WOZA leaders Ms. Jennifer Williams and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu. Seven of the arrested were released without charge on the same day. However, the two leaders were only released on bail on November 6, 2008. They were held at Mlondolozi female prison in deplorable conditions. As of the end of 2008, they remained charged for allegedly "disturbing the peace, security or order of the public" under Section 13(1)a of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Likewise, on December 3, 2008, following a peaceful march organised by ZCTU to protest against the financial crisis by delivering petitions to the RBZ Governor and offices, more than 69 demonstrators, leaders and members of ZCTU, including Mr. Wellington Chibebe, ZCTU Secretary General, and Mr. Lovemore Matombo, its President, were arrested. On December 8, all were released and, at the end of 2008, it was not known whether some of them would be prosecuted.

The International Labour Conference (ILC) that took place in Geneva in June 2008 expressed deep concern at the "surge in trade union and human rights violations" and the regime's "massive violence against teachers". It "further regretted the continual recourse made by the Government to the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and lately, to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act of 2006, in the arrest and detention of trade unionists for the exercise of their trade union activities, despite its calls upon the Government to cease such action". It also "took note with deep concern of [...] the ongoing threats to trade unionists' physical safety". It further deplored the Government's refusal to accept ILO assistance to improve the situation and called on it to "immediately halt all arrests, detentions, threats and harassment of trade union leaders and their members, drop all charges brought against them and ensure that they are appropriately compensated".11

Urgent Interventions issued by the Observatory in 200812

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
International Fact-Finding Mission ReportMarch 19, 2008
Ms. Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, Ms. Irene Petras, Mr. Dzikamai Machingura, Mr. Barnabas Mangodza, Ms. Jestina Mukoko, Mr. Clever Bere, Dr. Francis Lovemore, Mr. Alois Chaumba, and Mr. Earnest Mudzengi, Mr. Noel Kututwa and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)Searches / HarassmentUrgent Appeal ZWE 001/0408/OBS 068April 28, 2008
Mr. Lovemore Matombo and Mr. Wellington ChibebeArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal ZWE 002/0508/OBS 075May 14, 2008
Mr. Raymond MajongweArbitrary detentionUrgent Appeal ZWE 002/0508/OBS 075.1May 16, 2008
Release on bailUrgent Appeal ZWE 002/0508/OBS 075.2May 20, 2008
Ms. Jennifer Williams, Mr. Philimon Sajeni and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu as well as members of members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA)Arbitrary detention / Judicial proceedings / HarassmentUrgent Appeal ZWE 003/0608/OBS 094June 4, 2008
Release on bail / Arbitrary detentionUrgent Appeal ZWE 003/0608/OBS 094.1June 13, 2008
Release on bailUrgent Appeal ZWE 003/0608/OBS 094.2July 4, 2008
Ms. Jennifer Williams and Ms. Magodonga MahlanguArbitrary detention / Use of police force / Ongoing harassment / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal ZWE 006/1008/OBS 164October 17, 2008
Urgent Appeal ZWE 006/1008/OBS 164.1October 27, 2008
Release on bailUrgent Appeal ZWE 006/1008/OBS 164.2November 6, 2008
Mr. Tinarwo and Mr. Moses MhakaHarassment / Ill-treatmentsUrgent Appeal ZWE 004/0608/OBS 100June 12, 2008
Mr. Biggie Bangira, Mr. Musa Mabika and Mr. Leon ChiimbaObstacles to freedom of association / Arbitrary detention / Death threats / Ill-treatmentsUrgent Appeal ZWE 005/0608/OBS 101June 13, 2008
Mr. Wellington Chibebe, Mr. Lovemore Matombo, Mr. Tonderai Nyahunzvi, Mr. Canwell Muchadya, Mr. Hillarious Ruyi, Mr. Cde Tarumbira, Mr. Joseph Chuma, Ms. Getrude Hambira, Ms. Angeline Chitambo, Ms. Tecla Masamba, Ms. Martha Kajama, Ms. Mirriam Katumba, Mr. Japhet Moyo, Mr. Ben Madzimure, Mr. Fungayi Kanyongo, Mr. Raymond Majongwe, Mr. James Gumbi, Mr. Osward Madziwa, Mr. Gideon Shoko, Mr. Charles Chikozho, Mr. Isaac Thebethebe, Mr. Moses Mhaka, Mr. Wilbert Muringani, Mr. Benard Sibanda, Mr. Elinas Gumbo, Mr. Ndodana Sithole, Mr. Nicholas Zengeya, Mr. Isaac Matsikidze, Mr. Sarudzai Chimwanda, Mr. David Moyo, Mr. Enoch Paradzai and Mr. Kenneth Nemachena, as well as Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ)Arbitrary arrests / Obstacles to the freedom of assemblyUrgent Appeal ZWE 007/1208/OBS 205December 3, 2008
Ms. Jestina MukokoAbduction / Enforced disappearanceUrgent Appeal ZWE 008/1208/OBS 206December 4, 2008
Mr. Broderick Takawira and Mr. Pascal GonzoUrgent Appeal ZWE 008/1208/OBS 206.1December 9, 2008

1 See Declaration of the EU Presidency calling for the expeditious release of the presidential election results, in accordance with the due process of law, April 16, 2008.

2 See Statement by the UN Secretary-General, UN Document SG/SM/11650, AFR/1716, June 23, 2008, and EU Council Conclusions on Zimbabwe, 2886th External Relations Council meeting Brussels, July 22, 2008. The SADC had deployed more than 400 observers, the African Union over 60 and the Pan-African Parliament 30, while the United Nations had provided logistical and technical support to SADC. While the observers had been harassed and intimidated, they had reported many irregularities, including a requirement that voters report the serial numbers of their ballots to officials of the ZANU-PF party.

3 In its 2008 World Economic Outlook issued in October 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) argues that "no projections for 2008 and beyond are shown because Zimbabwe is in hyperinflation, and inflation can no longer be forecasted in a meaningful way. Unless policies change, inflation can increase without limit".

4 See UN Security Council, UN Document SC/9387, July 8, 2008.

5 See Commonwealth Press Release, December 8, 2008.

6 See Media Institute of Southern Africa Press Release, December 2008.

7 See UN Press Release, December 22, 2008.

8 See Press Releases by the Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, April 19 and June 23, 2008.

9 In a Press Released dated August 30, 2008, the UN Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the Government of Zimbabwe to lift the suspension of field operations of nongovernmental and private voluntary organisations.

10 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.

11 See ILC, 97th Session, Conference Committee on the Application of Standards: Extracts from the Record of Proceedings, 2008.

12 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

Search Refworld