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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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.

A Perverse Equality in Malawi and Other Gay Rights News

Uganda's proposed "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" received support from Christian groups © Demotix/Edward Echwalu

Last year, a couple was imprisoned for several months in Malawi following a traditional engagement ceremony based on a law criminalizing homosexuality. Similar laws exist in about 2/3 of African Union member nations. They were eventually pardoned by President Mutharika following loud international condemnation. Apparently, however, this incident served to bring to light a gap in Malawi’s laws members of Parliament decided to address.

Early last month, a bill was passed in Malawi’s parliament criminalizing homosexuality between women. Evidently there was concern the prior law could be construed to only apply to men, and since Malawi is clearly dedicated to making all things equal, decided it was necessary consenting adult women sharing their love also deserved the right to go to prison. As far as I know, the bill has yet to be signed into law by President Mutharika.

In more positive news this week, a court in Uganda decided publishing the names of LGBT people is completely uncool. While a pending law  allowing for punishment by the death penalty for engaging in homosexuality lingers in limbo, an enterprising tabloid decided putting names and pictures in papers with the words “hang them” was an appropriate vigilante maneuver.  

So boo to Malawi legislators and three cheers to the Ugandan high court as LGBT individuals struggle to be treated with respect, dignity and human rights in Africa.

Human Rights Victory in Angola!!

Billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team.

Billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team.

Today, four persons incarcerated in Angola were released from prison following a decision by the Attorney General their conviction was based on outdated legislation. Francisco Luemba, a lawyer, Raul Tati, a Catholic priest, and two others were convicted in August under a 1978 statute of the crime of “other acts against the security of the state” over an attack on the Togo national soccer team in the Cabinda region of Angola. Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience.

Luemba and Tati were members of the now banned human rights organization Mpalabanda and for many years publicly criticized the Angolan government and the Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda State FLEC – an armed group fighting for secession of Cabinda. FLEC claimed responsibility for the attack on the Togo national soccer team. Cabinda is a sliver of land between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. The region is internationally recognized as part of Angola and produces a substantial part of the country’s oil exports.

“Cabinda’s public prosecutor confirmed that the men have now been released and reunited with their families.”

Amnesty USA called on activists since August to take action to secure these men’s release as Amnesty believed their conviction was based on both an unfair trial and legislation violative of international human rights norms. You took up the candle and passed it along. Thanks to your efforts, these men are free today. Once again, Amnesty activists, YOU ROCK!!

Jenni Williams of WOZA Arrested in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams-Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE 10:00: Jenni has been released. Just another effort on the part of the Zimbabwe police to intimidate human rights defenders. Thank you to everyone for standing in solidarity through your phone calls on her behalf. ]

This morning, the 83 activists who spent two nights in jail at Harare Central, were released on bail after being charged with “criminal nuisance.” Jenni Williams, National Coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) met the activists across the street, along with other leadership members, to greet them upon their release. While speaking with the activists to determine who needed medical assistance, police approached the group and demanded Jenni accompany them into the police station.

She is accused of “addressing a gathering” and being held at the Magistrate’s Court until transport can be provided to Harare Central. WOZA has filed suit against members of Zimbabwe’s government over conditions at Harare Central. Jenni and 70 other WOZA activists were arrested and detained at Harare Central in April. Below is information provided in their complaint:

“When they got to the cells, their senses were assaulted by the choking smell of human excreta, and flowing urine of varying colours. Even the beds were covered with human excreta, so they sat and spent the night huddled in the corridors of the cells, as they could not sit inside the cells due to the faeces. However, even the corridor itself had flowing urine and they had to use their own tissues, to clean up the area where they planned to sit on.”

Please call Harare Central and demand that Jenni be released immediately! 011 +263 4 777777

Zimbabwe Irony: WOZA Protest Police Violence, Arrested

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: The 83 activists will remain in custody a second night. They are charged with obstructing traffic. At least that's a new one. And I had just accused the ZRP of being predictable...]

Today is International Day of Peace.  To commemorate the occasion, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets yesterday in Harare and today in Bulawayo. Their mission: raise awareness about the issue of police misconduct in Zimbabwe. In response to the peaceful march, police arrested 83 protestors, almost as if they were trying to help prove WOZA’s point. You’d think the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) would get tired of being so predictable.

On Monday, 600 women and men marched in the streets of Harare,  first to Parliament and then on to Harare Central Police Station in solidarity after the initial arrests. The aim of the peaceful protest was to highlight community safety issues and police misconduct. Last month, 250 people in a Harare suburb were forcibly evicted by the police in the middle of the night. Last weekend, violence marred a constitutional consultation session in Harare.

In addition to these recent incidents, WOZA observed police behavior in select communities in Bulawayo and Harare for four months. Below is a sampling of the conduct they observed. Way to keep it classy, ZRP.

“WOZA members observed police officers beating suspects in public; harassing vendors and taking their goods for their own use; demanding and accepting bribes; drinking in uniform in public, and making people under arrest ‘run’ in front of their motor bikes and/or horses to the police station.”

The 83 WOZA members arrested spent last night in cells at Harare Central Police Station and remain there at the time of this posting. Harare Central is super disgusting and WOZA is currently suing the co-Ministers of Home Affairs over the filthy and inhumane conditions. There is also word that a member of MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) was severely beaten while in custody last evening. Fortunately, there are no reported arrests of the 1200 activists who marched in Bulawayo today.

WOZA is asking people to please phone Harare Central Police Station at +263 4 777777 to demand that the activists be released immediately.

When Even Terrorists Say "You Suck!"

Photographers sit beside a billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team, ahead of a ceremony in Lome on January 15, 2010. EMILE KOUTON/AFP/Getty Images

Four men were convicted in Angola early last month for “crimes against the state” based on a purported involvement in the January terror attack against the Togo football team in Cabinda Province. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), who claimed responsibility for the attack as part of its on-going separatist campaign, promptly denounced the convictions. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good sign how you are running your country when a terrorist group has a stronger moral compass on a human rights issue…

In January 2010, Angola hosted the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament. On route to the opening games, the Togo national team was fired upon by armed rebels in the Cabinda province, killing three people. Cabinda is a small spit of land separated from the northern territorial borders of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is rich in oil and struggled with a separatist movement for many years now.

The four men, including Prisoners of Conscience Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati, were sentenced to between three and six years’ imprisonment by the Cabinda Provincial court. Luemba and Tati are members of the now banned human rights organization Mpalabanda. They are long-standing critics of both the government and FLEC. Police arrested both men shortly after the January attack. Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati were found with documents on Cabinda and had recently attended a conference aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the situation in the troubled region.

All four activists have been convicted of violating article 26 of the Angolan Law of Crimes against the Security of the State, which gives the authorities power to class any act as a crime. Help us tell the Angolan government these men must be released unless they are charged with a recognizable criminal offence and guaranteed a fair trial. Maybe the members of FLEC will also take this action and send a letter to the Angolan government…