About Sarah Hager

Sarah Hager is a volunteer leader at Amnesty International USA, serving as Chair of the Southern Africa Co-Group where she guides the efforts of Country Specialists monitoring human rights in twelve countries. Sarah provided crisis intervention and trauma therapy counseling services to rape survivors for seven years after college before returning to graduate school. Her Master's level coursework focused on the intersection of law and psychology and in law school, Sarah concentrated on international law and public policy. She has traveled to Russia and Thailand to complete legal research on national and international terrorism policies and the impact of HIV/AIDS policies on women. Sarah also worked in South Africa at the Legal Aid Board where she assisted with criminal defense and appellate cases as well as civil litigation challenging violations of constitutional rights. She has published a paper examining the international soft law regarding internally displaced persons and the ability of international actors to regulate behavior of States that displaces persons within a sovereign border, utilizing Zimbabwe as a case example. Sarah also volunteered as a statement taker for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Diaspora project. Sarah has a Master's degree in Clinical Forensic Psychology from Drexel University and a law degree from Northwestern University. She currently practices law in Washington DC.
Author RSS Feed
Follow @soafricaaiusa on Twitter

Women of Zimbabwe Arise Activists Arrested on International Day of Peace

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu

On Wednesday, September 21, activists from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) marched in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to commemorate International Day of Peace. Not seeming to appreciate the irony, police officers violently dispersed the protest, arresting 12 women and injuring several others.

Thursday, 10 of those women were released, but Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlongu remain in jail. They are charged with kidnapping and theft pertaining to some sort of bizarre set of circumstances that is beyond my comprehension at this time.

Jenni and Magodonga appeared in court this morning. Bail was denied and their next hearing is scheduled for October 6th. They will remain imprisoned until that time. Jenni recently had a minor operation which could result in serious complications from infection due to the disgusting sanitary conditions in prison. This ridiculous set of circumstances is a direct reflection of elements of the Zimbabwe government attempting to repress political and social dissent.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Protests End Early In Swaziland Due To State Violence

Wandile Dludlu, political activist in Swaziland © Private

Labor unions in Swaziland called off a third day of protests after police harassment and arbitrary arrests caused them to fear for the lives of demonstrators. Police used excessive force to disperse protests including firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons into crowds.

On April 11, four key activists were arrested ahead of the announced protests. Those detained were officials from the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), the banned youth organization SWAYOCO and an organizer for the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF). They were released on April 13, and placed under unlawful house arrest.

Mary da Silva, a lawyer and coordinator of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, was arrested and seized while giving an interview to a journalist. “Some people were taken away in big trucks, and they were dumped way out in the bush where there is no transportation,” said Ms. da Silva. “Basically, what they are doing is kidnapping activists.”

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Zimbabwe Police Think Strong Women Deserve Men's Prison

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu

In November of last year, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were wrongfully arrested and detained following a peaceful protest in 2008. As a result, their rights and fundamental freedoms were violated and the state failed to protect them from this abuse.

This was a pretty landmark holding and I am so proud of Jenni and Magodonga for standing up for their rights and the rights of all Zimbabweans; for educating people about their rights, encouraging people to demand those rights, and fighting back through peaceful, legal means when those rights are violated. Unfortunately, because of these efforts, Jenni, Magodonga, the other members of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) and many other human rights defenders in Zimbabwe are regularly targeted by the police and other government officials.

In February, violence and repression escalated sharply by government actors. Forty-five persons were arrested for gathering to watch video footage of the Egypt and Tunisia uprisings; six continue to face treason charges, punishable by death. Multiple members of WOZA/MOZA have been arrested on the street and in private houses. Both groups of detainees allege torture at the hands of the police. Abel Chikomo, director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is being sought by the police and today was charged with running an illegal organization.

And police have visited the residences of Jenni and Magodonga several times. A human rights lawyer at court representing other WOZA/MOZA detainees was told by police to inform Jenni and Magodonga they should prepare for a long detention…in a men’s prison because they are too strong of women to be contained in the women’s prison. As Jenni pointed out, a perverse sort of compliment.

It’s time for everyone to be equally strong and demand security sector reform in Zimbabwe. It’s time for everyone to be strong and demand Zimbabwe’ unity government guarantor’s take steps to end political violence in Zimbabwe. It’s time to stand strong in solidarity with Jenni and Magodonga and demand police do what the Supreme Court said they must: protect the citizens of Zimbabwe. Help keep Jenni, Magodonga and all Zimbabweans safe from abuse by taking action now!

Poor Healthcare Endangering Mothers in Zimbabwe

Mother and child outside her home in Hopley Settlement, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Lack of access to appropriate prenatal and post-natal care in informal settlements in Zimbabwe is endangering mothers and increasing infant mortality rates. Forced into unsafe dwellings with no heat or running water when the government displaced 700,000 people in 2005, for women in these Zimbabwe communities pregnancy is a scary proposition.

According to Amnesty International research, “Although thousands of people have been living at Hopley for more than five years, there are no maternal or newborn health services in the community. Women often give birth in unhygienic conditions in their plastic shacks and without skilled birth attendants. In order to reach maternal health services, women have to travel to a municipal clinic in the suburb of Glen Norah, about 8km away.”

There is no ambulance service to these communities, forcing women to walk to the clinic while in labor because they cannot afford a taxi or bus. Women frequently give birth at home, unaided and alone. The women Amnesty interviewed stated they were aware of the importance of medical care during pregnancy and after delivery, but due to costs and inaccessibility, they were not able to seek this vital healthcare. Inability to afford healthcare affects 75% of women in the lowest five wealth groups in Zimbabwe, of which most of the residents in these informal settlements fall.

Further, 45% of mothers in Zimbabwe have no access to a postnatal check by a trained health provider. Amnesty International documented the deaths of 21 infants in a six month period in 2010. Adequate living conditions and access to necessary health services after delivery could have prevented many of these deaths.

We need to demand the Zimbabwean government takes care of its women and children. Tell government officials of the importance of providing affordable healthcare, placed in the community. No more women should have to give birth alone and then watch their babies die.

Flash Protests in Zimbabwe

WOZA women LOVE sign

A flash mob is a” group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.” Flash mobs might be pointless and designed to entertain, but Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) borrowed the concept today for a very different purpose.

To commemorate International Women’s Day, 500 dedicated  WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) activists formed “flash protests” in downtown Bulawayo. Unlike typical WOZA protests where activists sing, march and converge on a central target where they practice peaceful civil disobedience in the face of police presence, today five individual protests sprang up and dispersed as soon as police presence appeared. There was a reason today’s protests were different-Zimbabwe police continue to actively target WOZA members.

Just this past weekend, four more members were arrested at private homes, detained for two nights and beaten by police. One woman, a nursing mother, was unable to hold or feed her child when visited by family members. Today WOZA reported high numbers of police presence who accused them of trying to incite a revolution. Following dispersal by police, the protestors went to the local court in solidarity with the four women being detained. They were victorious-the magistrate dropped all charges.

The flash protests, WOZA demanded President Zuma of South Africa take a more active stance in his role as guarantor of Zimbabwe’s negotiated unity government and end the violence. Amnesty is making a similar call to President Zuma to ensure political violence does not escalate further and elections are free and fair. Raise your voice with WOZA and send a message to President Zuma. Tell him there should be no voting violence in Zimbabwe.

(By the way, if you don’t get the whole flash mob thing, don’t worry, I don’t get it either. But here is a really funny link anyway.)

Women of Zimbabwe Arise Hunted by Police

Women of Zimbabwe Arise marching in Harare, Zimbabwe

In the last two days, members of civil rights organization WOZA have been targeted and arrested by police in Zimbabwe. Seven members of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) were arrested yesterday at private homes. They were not engaging in any activity in violation of the law, although three are accused of smoking marijuana based on having “black hands.”

One of the women arrested yesterday is a nursing mother who has been denied access to her child. When visited today by family, several of those arrested indicated they were subjected to beatings on the soles of their feet. This is a torture method called falanga and is a common instrument in the torture arsenal of Zimbabwe police.

Today, 14 more women were arrested. Four are WOZA members, the other 10 are not. They were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place was a meeting to contribute $1 to a burial society fund. At this time, not all of these women are accounted for as they have been taken to several different police stations. According to WOZA “police officers, some in full riot gear, visited the homes of another 6 members but they were not home.”

This is clear evidence of the increasing harassment and intimidation of civil society. I also believe the Zimbabwe police are actively hunting for WOZA leadership (but this is my personal opinion so please take it as such). At this time, we are not instituting any action until we have further information but please continue to press President Zuma of South Africa to ensure anticipated voting in Zimbabwe is free, fair and without further violence. I will update with more information when available.

Escalating Political Violence in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Riot Police In City Centre Intersection

[UPDATE: Four WOZA activists, three women and one man, were arrested today at the home of a WOZA member. The charges or reason for the arrests is unknown, other than the continuing harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders.]

Last weekend, a group of individuals in Zimbabwe gathered to watch footage of the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, discuss the impact of these events and speculate what implication they might pose for the African continent as a whole. Instead of a peaceful, academic discussion unfolding, police broke up the meeting and arrested 45 individuals. At least seven of these persons have been beaten while in custody, including Munyaradzi Gwisai, a former opposition parliamentarian. All persons have been charged with treason, a crime punishable by death.

Amnesty International has noted an alarming increase in politically motivated violence, beginning in 2010. While Women of Zimbabwe Arise were able to conduct their annual Valentine’s Day marches this year without interference by riot police, other recent incidents point to a dangerous trend. ZANU-PF, President Mugabe’s political party, is increasingly carrying out violent attacks against supporters of the MDC, the political opposition party. Human Rights Watch reports

“Credible sources from civil society informed Human Rights Watch that in recent months, ZANU-PF youth have attacked scores of people, mainly MDC supporters, in the high-density neighborhoods of Harare, as well as areas outside of Harare such as Chitungwiza, Gutu, and Bikita. Local civil society organizations alleged that the police were arresting the victims of the violence – many of whom are from the MDC – instead of the perpetrators, who they say are mainly from ZANU-PF.”

Escalating violence in rural areas has sent refugees fleeing into Mozambique. President Zuma of South Africa, appointed guardian of the negotiated unity government between ZANU-PF and MDC, is conducting talks relating to expected votes planned for later this year or early next year regarding a constitutional referendum and purported presidential elections. Amnesty USA, in solidarity with WOZA, urged activists to send messages to President Zuma insisting all prospective votes be conducted free of violence and in line with international obligations. It’s not too late. You can still send those messages. Arresting people for watching videos demonstrates those messages are more important than ever.

Vote for Love in Zimbabwe!

Help Zimbabwe Vote for Love this Valentines Day!

I confess-I think Valentines Day is a scam perpetrated by men to buy forgiveness for all the things they mess up the rest of the year by presenting you with bouquet of convenience store flowers. Luckily, the members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are far less jaded. Every year they take to the streets on in Zimbabwe on Valentines Day, urging political leaders to remember the power of love is greater than the love of power.

This year, celebrating their ninth year of peaceful protest, 1800 members marched in Bulawayo on Friday-their biggest gathering to date. They sang and danced their way to the offices of the state run newspaper, calling attention to the need for free and open access to the media. This will be particularly important this year as Zimbabwe moves toward a vote on a new constitution and expected Presidential elections. Open access by all candidates to the media is critical in ensuring a free and fair election.

As the WOZA members marched, they passed out Valentines to bystanders with messages regarding constitutional reform. You can help WOZA spread the message about the need for open media access and free and fair elections by sending a Valentine to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma. President Zuma is appointed by regional leaders to supervise Zimbabwe’s negotiated interim government and upcoming elections. Our Valentines urge him to take steps to ensure all votes are free of violence and intimidation.

Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections saw high levels of political violence, with human rights defenders like WOZA, civil society members and political opposition figures particularly targeted. Amnesty is concerned about continuing levels of violence and the great potential for extreme violence to return surrounding any votes. Take action to keep WOZA members and all Zimbabweans safe as they go to the polls. Help Zimbabwe vote for love. Find our Valentine to President Zuma here.

Uganda Gay Rights Activist Murdered

Protest at Uganda House, New York, against the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Copyright Kaytee Riek.

In a tragic update to a posting several weeks ago regarding gay rights in Africa, a leading activist in Uganda was horrifically murdered yesterday. According to several news sources,

“David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was bludgeoned to death in Mukono, Kampala, yesterday afternoon.”

Mr. Kato was instrumental in a successful law suit brought against the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone to force it to stop printing names, addresses and pictures of LGBT persons in Uganda.  Mr. Kato was also a leading voice lobbying against a bill still pending in Parliament to punish those accused of homosexuality with death.

We mourn Mr. Kato’s tragic death. The human rights community lost a courageous defender yesterday.

Update: Send a message of solidarity to Uganda’s LGBT Rights Coalition. Let’s let them know they are not alone.