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.


Kumbaya, Zimbabwe?

At the end of July, Zimbabwe observed three days of peace as a way to promote national healing and reconciliation by abstaining from all forms of political violence. Not to minimize a positive step, but perhaps it shouldn’t be necessary to have to declare three days of non-violence. In any case, let’s examine some recent events and see how much love those three days inspired.

She Loves Me
-At the launch of the three days of peace, President Mugabe calls for tolerance, respect, non-violence and dialogue. The government announces that public demonstrations will be allowed to occur so long as police are previously notified.
She Loves Me Not
-President Mugabe promptly threatens to once again banish international NGO’s from Zimbabawe, political violence is escalating in rural areas, Finance Minister Tendai Biti receives a death threat in the mail and one of his aides is allegedly beaten by army soldiers.

She Loves Me
-Zimbabwe declares the cholera epidemic is over and new incidents of cases have dropped dramatically.
She Loves Me Not
-Bulawayo suburbs are currently out of clean running water due to electrical issues at a pumping station and in Harare some resident’s water service has been disconnected and told their water will remain cut off until they pay all back owed monies, regardless of whether they actually had water service during the months charged.

She Loves Me
-The BBC, CNN and presumably other international press are now allowed to report from within Zimbabwe, the banned Daily News will be allowed to resume operations and a new Media Commission is being developed.
She Loves Me Not
Feuding over who is actually appointed to the commission promptly kicks in, journalists still face prosecutions and television stations and most newspapers are controlled by the State.

She Loves Me
-Prime Minister Tsvangirai takes a trip to South Africa and President Zuma says he will address with President Mugabe the outstanding issues yet to be resolved in the Global Political Agreement such as appointment of the Reserve Bank Governor and Attorney General.
She Loves Me Not
-The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) says there will not be a special session to address issues in Zimbabwe prior to the scheduled September summit and the Head of State expected to assume the Chairmanship of SADC in September is President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She Loves Me
-An MDC parliamentarian arrested for playing a pro-MDC song on his car stereo is released without charges and another MDC parliamentarian arrested for stealing the cell phone of a war veteran leader has been released on bail.
She Loves Me Not
-The MDC is one seat away from losing its majority in Parliament due to the convictions of five of its members and the expulsion of others. Meanwhile no members of ZANU-PF have been prosecuted for incidents of post-election violence that occurred in April to June 2008.

Zimbabwe: A Sturdy Constitution or Just Indigestion?

Zimbabwe recently began to hold public hearings in the constitutional reform process mandated by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed last September. According to the timeline laid out in the agreement brokered between the former majority party ZANU-PF, the current majority party MDC-T and splinter party MDC-M, a new constitution must be voted on by the Zimbabwe people in a referendum held around July 2010.

However, there is already disagreement as to how the process should unfold. According to the GPA, there are to be open hearing where input by the people is to shape the constitutional process before being ratified by Parliament and then sent to a vote by the people. However, the ZANU-PF party wants to use as a basis for the constitution a draft drawn up in September 2007 called the Kariba Draft. This document was negotiated by the three political parties. The MDC-T feels that this document should be scrapped and the process should start anew because the Kariba Draft was only meant to apply to the time frame of the last elections in March 2008; because ZANU-PF discarded the Kariba Draft in December 2007, the MDC feels the document has no legitimacy and therefore no basis from which to proceed.

Finally, civil society members in Zimbabwe feel that the voice of the people was silenced in both the Kariba Draft and the current proceedings and that stronger input is needed by the people of Zimbabwe for any new constitution to have legitimacy and truly reflect the will of the people. Considering the sacrifices members of civil society make every day to fight for civil and human rights, I think they more than anyone are in the best position to say which rights should be enshrined and protected in a document that will govern their lives and manage their peace. Either way, it looks like bumpy roads are still ahead in Zimbabwe.

Amnesty Secretary General Dedicates Classic Police Song to Zimbabwe

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan meets Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, London, 22 June 2009 © Amnesty International

AI's Khan meets Tsvangirai June 2009

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan met with Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai this week as he was wrapping up his world tour and she had just returned from a high level mission to Zimbabwe. As far as I can tell from the picture, there wasn’t actually a karaoke machine in the room, but Khan told Tsvangirai that Amnesty will be watching Zimbabwe closely over the next 100 days, looking for improvements in human rights. Only not in a stalker, creepy way as in the song, but more in line with the on going efforts of Amnesty International to bring to light the conditions that have occurred on the ground in Zimbabwe in recent years.

The severity of the degradation in human rights was on dramatic display during Khan’s visit last week, when civil activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise staged two protests, one in Bulawayo and one in Harare. Both protests were violently broken up by riot police, resulting in serious injuries. The Harare protest occurred near where Khan was holding a press conference. Not smart to try to convince the world you are making progress on human rights issues and then beat up mothers with their babies and grandmothers in front of the head of one of the world’s largest human rights organization.

While Tsvangirai was in the US, he secured a commitment from Obama for “humanitarian plus” aid. This means increased aid to help the people in Zimbabwe with things like education and healthcare by giving the money to organizations in Zimbabwe as opposed to the government itself. All total, Tsvangirai secured pledges from donor governments amounting to around $180 million to provide some relief in Zimbabwe. This is no where near the amounts needed to begin to rebuild the country, but donor governments remain leery of the ability of the Zimbabwe government to handle direct developmental funding in a tranparent manner. Especially when the same week the new aid commitments are being announced, legislation is introduced in Zimbabwe’s Parliament to provide $30,000 loans to all Parliamentarians to buy brand new cars.

Amnesty International USA endorses the decision of the US government to increase funds that will improve the lives of the citizens of Zimbabwe. The US and international community have an obligation to protect and promote economic, social and cultural rights around the world. But Zimbabwe, we’ll be watching you.

Four WOZA Members Arrested Today

Members of WOZA © AP

Members of WOZA © AP

Four members of the Zimbabwe group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested and detained today after taking part in a peaceful demonstration outside of the Meikles hotel in Harare. The WOZA members are believed to have been seriously injured after they were allegedly beaten by police at the demonstration. The arrests and beatings of these human rights defenders occurred while the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, was in Harare on the final day of a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe. Amnesty International has been informed that police accused the WOZA members of demonstrating in front of International visitors in order to embarrass the government and understands that this is why they were arrested. The four WOZA members, who are currently detained at Harare Central police station, have allegedly been denied access to medical care by the Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Another demonstration in Bulawayo was was violently broken up by police on Wednesday.

We hope to have ways for people to take action available soon. Meanwhile, read more about the WOZA case and take general action.

No Safe Refuge in Zimbabwe

Today Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise took to the streets of Bulawayo to commemorate World Refugee Day, observed on June 20th. WOZA reports that many of its activits were beaten and arrested today by uniformed police as it attempted to conduct these peaceful demonstrations. WOZA traditionally marks World Refugee Day because they “believe Zimbabweans are refugees in their own country – displaced, unsettled and insecure.”

WOZA used UNHCR’s theme this year, “real people, real needs,” to highlight the plight of Zimbabwe’s informal traders, still the only means of survival for many persons in Zimbabwe with its 90%+ unemployment rate. The marches also convened at the offices of state-owned Chronicle newspaper to highlight issues with media freedom in Zimbabwe. Upon arrival, “they were attacked by uniformed police officers who brutally beat them, arresting many.”

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu already face trial on charges of disturbing the peace for violation of the Public Order and Security Act, an onerous law in Zimbabwe that restricts freedom of association by limiting the ability of people to congregate in groups larger than five persons. Their trial is set to reconvene on July 7th, pending word of an appeal to the Constitutional Court. Many people had the privilege of meeting Jenni and Magi when they visited the US in March to speak at Amnesty’s Annual General Meeting. I don’t know yet if either Jenni or Magi were arrested or harmed in today’s demonstrations. I will update this post when I have more news.

Update from WOZA: “Eight members have been arrested, four women and three men. Three members required medical treatment, including an elderly woman who was pushed to the ground by police causing her mouth to be injured. Once again three plain-clothes police officers tried to locate WOZA leaders Williams and Mahlangu but they were heard saying they could not locate them amongst the dispersing activists.”

Zimbabwe: A Little bit Funky, A Little bit Rock-n-Roll

Chad Stokes and Braddigan

Chad Stokes and Braddigan

What do you get when you put nearly 100 people in a room on a steamy DC summer evening to listen to two amazingly talented musicians perform an acoustic set and share information about Women of Zimbabwe Arise and the International Violence Against Women Act? Well, you definitely get an environment that’s a little, shall we say, musty. But you also get alot of energy and passion and commitment all directed toward improving the lives of the people of Zimbabwe and women in particular.

Last night, Chad Stokes and Brad Corrigan (aka Braddigan) of the former band Dispatch reunited in anticipation of a sold out charity concert tonight at the Kennedy Center by request of Prime Minister Tsvangirai to mark his visit to the US. The guys played some amazing songs and shared personal stories about their experiences in Zimbabwe and why they are so personally committed to human rights. Hopefully everyone who went came away with a little more knowledge about the issues and some awareness of what they can do to help. As for me, “she looks so proud she looks so happy.”

Tip on Avoiding Being the Party Pooper in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe political party Movement for Democratic Change headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) held an annual conference this past weekend. The party, which turns 10 this year, split in late 2005 over divisions with Arthur Mutambara over the direction of the party. The newer splinter group, MDC-M, together with the MDC-T, holds a majority of seats in Parliament but the Presidency remains with ZANU-PF, the ruling party in Zimbabwe since liberation.

At the MDC-T conference, Tsvangirai wasn’t exactly uplifting regarding life in Zimbabwe since a unity government was sworn in this February following severe violence and discord after disputed elections in March 2008.

“We have not yet succeeded in restoring the rule of law … our people do not live free from fear, hunger and poverty,” he said.

Wow, way to kill a party, Debbie Downer. Oh, wait. It’s true. Lawyers, journalists, political activists and civil society are all routinely oppressed and harassed in Zimbabwe for speaking out against the government or defending those who do. Unemployment is approximately 94% and Zimbabwe is now per capita the most food aid dependent country in the world. But maybe if Tsvangirai had served at the convention some of the delicacies offered at President Mugabe’s 85th birthday party this year, this bitter pill might have been a little easier to swallow.

Rebuilding Zimbabwe: How ‘Bout Them Apples?

It’s said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But doctors are very far away in Zimbabwe, as in entirely other countries where they might actually be paid for their services. Worse, most people don’t have anything to eat, let alone fresh fruit. Zimbabwe’s infrastructure has been in a downward spiral for at least the last ten years. The education system is in ruins, hospitals are closed, roads are impassable and the water and sewage systems destroyed.

Zimbabwe inherited a colonial infrastructure now over thirty years old. I don’t condone colonialism, I don’t think Zimbabwe was better off because the British were there and it’s not because the British left that things fell apart. It was a combination of government mismanagement and an acknowledged siphoning of funds by the central bank leading to the lack of infrastructure maintenance. Schools and hospitals, once some of the most respected in Africa are in shambles. Teachers, doctors and other health care professionals left in search of a living wage, particularly as Zimbabwe’s inflation soared to astronomical heights. The current government salary of $100US a month is not enough to feed and house their families, pay school fees, even commute to work.

Last year a cholera epidemic erupted in Zimbabwe which will soon reach the 100,000 cases benchmark. Unless the water treatment plants and sewer systems receive urgently needed repairs, it is anticipated that cholera will return at crisis levels when the rainy season resumes in October. The 2009 harvest was below projected levels, meaning Zimbabwe will be the world’s most food needy country per capita in 2009. Zimbabwe’s once effective HIV anti-retroviral drug dispersal program has faltered with the medical system collapse, and poor nutrition makes the drugs less effective and difficult to digest. Food insecurity also exaccerbates the cholera crisis.

Zimbabwe needs more than apples. It needs good governance and directed humanitarian aid (aid that is dispensed to non-governmental organizations to pay salaries and restore the infrastructure rather than through a government of which donor States remain leery) to help the people of Zimbabwe rebuild their country. Until then, apples and healthcare are both very far away.

Zimbabwe is the new Pakistan?

Alec Muchadehama in his office, 19 August 2008

Alec Muchadehama in his office, 19 August 2008

Remember two years ago when then President Musharraf removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, setting off howls of protest from the Pakistani legal community? Many people, including Musharraf, seemed surprised that lawyers had it in them to take to the streets and demand respect for the rule of law.  But if any of you have ever been to a “bar review” (read booze fest) hosted any given Thursday evening by one of our nation’s law schools, or been to a patent bar continuing legal education course (I’ve heard those patent lawyers get rowdy), you nodded your head wisely as the Pakistani lawyers protested continuously for two years until the Chief Justice was reinstated.

Until recently, lawyers in Zimbabwe, despite being one of the most active civil society groups in the country, had for the most part avoided being swept up in the political machinations and repression experienced in recent years.  In the last few months, though, this seems to be changing. In February, two lawyers were arrested while observing a Valentine’s Day protest in Harare.  Then in March, the magistrate who granted bail to arrested prospective Minister of Agriculture Roy Bennett was arrested.  Last week, respected human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama was arrested in court for allegedly attempting to circumnavigate proper legal channels in securing the release of his clients on bail.  Now it was announced today that the two lawyers detained in February will go to trial on charges of “participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry.”

In response, lawyers and journalists promptly took to the streets in Harare today to protest government harassment.  Now, I’m not just saying this because I am a lawyer, but perhaps those pulling the strings in Zimbabwe might want to heed the lesson painfully learned by Musharraf, whose relatively rapid downfall is widely attributed to have commenced when he began messing around with lawyers.  To misappropriate Adam Sandler’s Zohan movie title, “You don’t mess with the lawyers.”