BY TAURAI MANGUDHLA/ TAFADZWA KACHIKO/TAPFUMANEI MUCHABAIWA
ZIMBABWE’S legacy of gross human rights violations topped discussions at the 30th meeting of the ongoing 50th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, which put the spotlight on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
Zimbabwe has only accepted 127 out of 264 human rights recommendations from the UN.
Member states and observers took turns to present their opinions and recommendations on the outcome of Zimbabwe’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) where concerns were raised about the country’s commitment to guaranteeing human rights.
There were also discussions on progress made so far on key recommendations including the abolishment of the death penalty, safeguarding political rights, lawyers’ rights, freedom of speech as well as women and children’s rights.
The consideration of the outcome on Harare was based on the report of the working group on the universal periodic review on Zimbabwe.
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) said it was concerned about the shrinking civic and democratic space in the country as Zimbabwe prepares for general elections in 2023.
“There has been an alarming rise in police brutality with the context of the 2022 by-elections, peaceful protests and assembly of human rights activists, opposition leaders, and political activists are banned and criminalised through selective abuse of restrictive laws,” ISHR said.
The organisation added that there has been a rise in abuse, arrests, and detentions at maximum-security prisons.
ISHR noted that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are facing an increasing level of attack.
The Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) amendment Bill currently before Parliament is posing a grave threat to NGO operations.
“It criminalises NGO activity in political activity. The PVO Bill must be abandoned or amended,” ISHR said.
Lawyers for Lawyers, a global organisation defending lawyers who are at risk, said lawyers must be able to carry out their duties without intimidation or harassment in Zimbabwe.
“In Zimbabwe, lawyers are often targeted with intimidation and harassment by law enforcement with some lawyers being subjected to physical attacks. Lawyers in Zimbabwe have also been subjected to judicial harassment, arrest, and detention while carrying out their duties,” the organisation added.
Lawyers for lawyers said Zimbabwean authorities do not respect freedom of association and rights of lawyers and have been blocking peaceful protests by lawyers.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and ZimRights raised concern that the government has just noted and not accepted 57 of the recommendations.
“Special concern is on the reluctance to support the ratification of human rights treaties. Zimbabwe should reconsider recommendations not accepted,” FIDH said.
“There has been a rise in attacks on activists and attempts to use the law to silence critics ahead of the 2023 elections.” The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also said Zimbabwe has no free right to participate in politics and this barred NGO’s participation in voter education.
The ICJ and Veritas also noted that authorities must stop attacks on journalists.
Amnesty International (AI) also added its voice in the meeting citing concern about the lack of progress in the implementation of the accepted recommendations.
“Many Zimbabweans are living in fear of being abducted by security forces or tortured for expressing their views,” AI said.
During the UN meeting, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi was at pains to defend the appalling state of human rights in the country before what became a firing squad during the session.
Ziyambi said, Zimbabwe received 264 recommendations from the member states and accepted 127 of which were accepted, 98 deferred, and 39 noted.
“I am pleased to report that of the 98 deferred recommendations 41 now enjoy the support of Zimbabwe bringing the number of supported recommendations to 168,” Ziyambi said.
“Zimbabwe has accepted these recommendations in accordance with its constitutional mandate, the need to support social cohesion, and the capacity to implement them within the four and half UPR circle.”
This comes after the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) in May exposed Zanu PF for perpetrating the majority of human rights abuses across the country in the month of April.
A report titled “The Wall” talks of the existence of Zanu PF torture camps in rural areas to crush dissent.
ZPP said it recorded 165 incidents in which the ruling party was responsible during the reporting period.
The Zanu PF party also stands accused of the abduction and gruesome murder of known opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Moreblessing Ali whose mutilated body was found two weeks after her disappearance.
The Zimbabwean government continues to use extreme force against citizens including the murder of protestors in August 2018 by heavily armed soldiers.
Late last month, riot police stormed Bindura General Hospital and indiscriminately beat up nurses for joining a nationwide strike by health workers protesting over salaries and poor working conditions.