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.
Eve Ensler will keynote the XX Factor on October 4th.
On Thursday October 4th, Amnesty International will be holding our 2nd Annual Women’s Rights Forum in Washington, D.C.
The XX Factor: Town Hall on Women’s Rights, will bring together human rights defenders, issue experts and grassroots activists on women’s human rights work to talk about the frontline women’s rights issues in the United States, and around the world. That, in and of itself, is worthy of excitement. But that isn’t all!
Here are 3 reasons to get excited about this year’s XX Factor.
1. With little more than a month until the U.S. elections, now is the time to set our agenda for the rights of women and girls for the next four years. Our panelists – Kierra Johnson, Executive Director at Choice USA, feminist scholar Linda Hirshman and Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center, will tackle issues ranging from women’s economic status to reproductive freedom, as well as the importance of women’s political participation in November, and beyond.
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.
April 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.
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.
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.
Even at nine in the morning on a Friday, when most of us would normally be counting down to the weekend, the energy in the Foundry in Washington, DC is phenomenal. In the sunshine outside, groups color flags in support of Filep Karma, while inside roses and key actions are passed around for signatures. Larry Cox hasn’t even arrived yet, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement.
By the time everyone has settled inside for the opening speeches, the count is well over one hundred Amnesty International activists. The various speakers infect the crowd with even more passion and anticipation, reaching a pinnacle when Larry announces that he has decided that joining us for Get on the Bus is more important than going home to meet with the IRS.
The group splits, half heading to demonstrate for the Women of Zimbabwe (WoZA) at the Zimbabwe Embassy and half for Walid Yunis Ahmad at the Iraqi Consulate. We march in long ovals, chanting and holding our signs, the very picture of peaceful protest. At the Iraqi Consulate, faces peer out from the windows and passers by stop to watch.
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!
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.