South Africa Gets Universal on Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks next to first lady Grace Mugabe. (Photo credit: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of contested presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008, Zimbabwe experienced high levels of political violence. Amnesty International documented deaths, disappearances, torture, and arrests of civilians, political opposition members and civil society. Citizens were rounded up and taken to “re-education camps,” which were mostly school buildings in rural areas, where they were forced to pledge allegiance and sing songs in support of President Robert Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF. Women were also brutally raped, often by multiple perpetrators.

Zimbabwe has not signed the Rome Statute, so they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court unless referred by the UN Security Council. However, South Africa has signed the Rome Statute and in doing so, made a commitment to pursuing international justice. A South African court previously held that the country has a requirement under this commitment to investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of torture in Zimbabwe who cross the border into South Africa-but prosecutors declined to do so and the government appealed that decision.

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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.

Resolving Zimbabwe's Farm Crisis is Not Black & White

Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

Thousands of news articles, scholarly articles and panel discussions debate Zimbabwe’s land reform program. Almost without fail, stark lines are drawn between black and white: colonial authority and indigenous population, owner and occupier, right and wrong. The problem with such a stark conclusion is it ignores all shades of gray.

The Commercial Farmers Union and elite political power players in Zimbabwe both play the martyr. President Mugabe’s former ruling political party, ZANU-PF, contends Zimbabwe suffered because the white minority owned the most fertile farmland and excluded the indigenous population from ownership. The Commercial Farmers Union argues ownership by valid land title and the violent land dispossessions contravene Zimbabwe and international law. Journalists, international governments, political observors and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) blame Mugabe’s policy of violent land reclamation for ruining the Zimbabwe economy and contend it is based on racism. The Commercial Farmers Union presses for restoration of property first and compensation in the alternative. There are elements of truth in all the above but it tells only part of the story.

At the end of colonial rule, only 50% of indigenous Africans claimed land ownership. Colonial relocation of this population to Tribal Trust Areas ensured black Africans were farming land characterized by poor soil, poor rainfall, poor roads and overcrowding. The systematic marginalization of black Africans under colonial authority is indisuptable and necessary to redress. However, the policies promulgated under the ZANU-PF regime to correct this imbalance were poorly managed and occurred primarily for political reasons (other liberation leaders such as Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole were some of the first to face dispossession to ensure Mugabe’s political survival). Violent land expulsions of both black and white farmers without respect for rule of law became the norm. Further, some of the white farmers displaced validly purchased their land post-liberation from the Zimbabwe government for a fair price.

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Feeling Out of Options? Try a Boycott.

Update: Amnesty International warns of deteriorating human rights conditions in Zimbabwe. 

Amnesty International warned today that Zimbabwe is on the brink of sliding back into the post-election violence that erupted last year, risking the stability brought about by the creation of the unity government in February. The organization called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) foreign ministers, visiting Zimbabwe on Thursday to assess the eight month-old unity government, not to ignore the worsening human rights situation. Amnesty International also challenged SADC and the African Union (AU) to tackle human rights violations by government bodies under the control of ZANU-PF.

The civil rights boycotts that occurred in the southern US during the 1950′s are some of the most famous and successful examples of this pressure tactic. In the last two weeks, boycotts have suddenly became en vogue again. Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s embattled Prime Minister, declared his political party, MDC-T, would boycott the compromise government formed following contested elections last year. This seemingly courageous attempt to force compliance with the negotiated agreement by his opponent, President Mugabe, was promptly undercut in its significance and boldness when accused war criminal Karadzic declared he was boycotting his trial at the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Awkward…

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