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.
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Rule of Law vs. Repression in Zimbabwe

Okay Machisa has been remanded in custody until 30 January© ZimRights

Okay Machisa has been remanded in custody until 30 January© ZimRights

In early 2009, Zimbabwe entered an agreement to form a unity government following contested elections in 2008. Part of that agreement required the establishment of a new constitution through public consultation and a referendum vote by citizens. Due to political maneuvering, purposeful delays, and budget shortcuts that referendum has not occurred. Accordingly, new elections are mandated no later than October 2013. What does all this mean?

It means Zimbabwe, a country without an election free from violence and intimidation in one form or another since really, well, independence, will have elections sooner rather than later. While the opposition party MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) does not have clean hands, most violence is perpetuated by the party with government control for over 30 years, ZANU-PF. Under the unity government, ZANU-PF retained control of security structures in Zimbabwe, and continues to use the police, security agents, and courts to harass, intimidate, threaten and torture civil society members, political opposition figures and human rights defenders.

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Zimbabwe Goes After Activists Again

Earlier this week, scores of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members were arrested and detained by riot police during a march in Bulawayo, including National Coordinator Magadonga Mahlangu. All were eventually released without charge, but the efforts of police to harass and intimidate serve as a reminder of the challenges to practicing freedom of expression and assembly in Zimbabwe.

WOZA members have been conducting a series of protests demanding the draft constitution process be completed and brought to a vote. Currently Zimbabwe does not actually have a constitution. It has operated for 30 years under the Lancaster House agreement, which governed the transition from UK colonial power to self-government.

It has been modified multiple times, but following the political violence of the 2008 elections and the subsequently negotiated Government of National Unity (GNU), it is mandated that a new constitution be drafted and voted on through a referendum process. This process has been delayed multiple times and many civil society organizations in Zimbabwe express concern the process has been politicized and does not adequately reflect rights and government structures desired by Zimbabwean citizens.

Coup Again in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau protests

Some 30 people hold a peaceful demonstration in front of the national assembly, where the negotiations are taking place, on April 15, 2012 in Bissau, before soldiers violently disperse them. (Photo SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Demonstrating again the worst employment record for job security, members of the military staged a coup last week, arresting the president and prime minister, in the small, west African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Since independence, no democratically elected president has completed a 5 year term of office.

Reacting to domestic and international condemnation, including suspension by the African Union, the army is becoming increasingly repressive of the basic rights of freedom of movement and expression, particularly of the media.

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Zimbabwe's Continuing Struggle for Freedom

zimbabwe flagApril 18th is Zimbabwe National Day. This year, Zimbabwe will commemorate 32 years of independence from colonial rule. While today is a day to celebrate, freedom has its limits in Zimbabwe.

Specifically, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are sharply curtailed by the government. In March, six people were convicted of “conspiracy to commit public violence.” Just how did they conspire? They gathered with others last year to watch video footage of the Arab Spring events in Egypt and Tunisia.

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Celebrating a Fearless Human Rights Defender, Jenni Williams

Jenni williams women of zimbabwe arise

Jenni leading protest march in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, February 2012. Jenni was arrested for the 40th time that day. Photo courtesy of WOZA.

Every year on March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day. I have been blessed to know many amazing women in my life: my mom, my sisters, my aunts, my friends. It’s nice there is a day of the year set aside to honor and remember strong, powerful women who make a difference in our world.

Ginetta Sagan was one of those women. Ms. Sagan, once a political prisoner herself, was a fearless and outspoken human rights defender who tirelessly worked to improve the lives of others. Amnesty International USA established a fund in her honor which annually recognizes a woman who, often at great personal risk, dedicates her life to improving the lives of others.

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10 Years of Love Met With Violence in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams-Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Yesterday, the activists of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets in Bulawayo for the 10th consecutive commemoration of Valentine’s Day. Yes, I know it’s a week early; but in Zimbabwe, when you’re trying to keep the riot police from guessing when your peaceful protests will occur, that’s what you have to do. Unfortunately, their plan didn’t work and co-founder Jenni Williams, along with twelve other people including a pregnant woman and minor, were arrested.

WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) use the occasion of Valentine’s Day to confront governmental policies that violate civil and human rights in Zimbabwe and educate their fellow citizens about issues and what can be done. Frequently, WOZA is met with brutal violence at the hands of the riot police. Jenni has been arrested nearly 50 times.

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Write for Love in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu

As Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights campaign come to a close, I wanted to give a shout out to my friends at Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). They are featured in this year’s event that culminates on International Human Rights Day, December 10th.

Their inclusion this year is especially poignant as WOZA activists Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu will be in court December 12th, facing charges with potentially serious consequences.

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Malawi's Democracy Continues to Unravel

Malawi violence

Isaac Kambwiri injured by police during demonstrations.

Only three months after 18 were killed during peaceful protests in Malawi, five activists were arrested last week. They were holding a peaceful demonstration calling on President wa Mutharika to have a referendum for early elections, the resignation of Police Inspector General Peter Mukhita, and an investigation into his alleged involvement in the death of student activist Robert Chasowa.

Though Malawi rarely receives significant international press coverage for human rights abuses, or much other news for that matter, the government in Malawi has been systematically restricting human rights and taking violent action to suppress criticism.

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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.

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