Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: July to December 2016 - Zimbabwe

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated during this reporting period. The quantity and severity of incidents of rights violations increased. In the 5 months from July to November 2016, the Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded 1,264 violations, compared with 1,016 in the 6-month period from January to June 2016 (data for December 2016 was not available at the time of publication). Incidents included abductions and torture, politically motivated sexual violence, multiple incidents of violent policing of demonstrations and arbitrary arrest.

There was an increase in public protests in response to the political environment and the deteriorating economic situation. The police regularly denied opposition parties and civil society organisations permission to hold rallies and demonstrations, whilst granting similar requests for rallies by the ruling party. However, during July, August and September, the courts overruled some of these police refusals, notably in regard to opposition demonstrations in Harare and Bulawayo. On 16 September 2016 the government banned all demonstrations and public processions in central areas of Harare for a month.

Police have responded in a heavy handed manner to demonstrations and protests, using dogs, tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to disburse protesters. There are multiple credible reports detailing raids by police or alleged state sponsored groups on activists’ homes. Several prominent activists have been abducted at gunpoint and tortured, including through the use of electrocution, beatings and injections with unknown substances. There are reports that family members of political activists have been sexually assaulted and threatened with violence by men claiming to represent the state. Cases of arbitrary arrest and detention have increased. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights recorded 600 such arrests in August and September 2016, along with some allegations of torture and ill-treatment. The lack of an effective investigation into the disappearance of human rights defender Itai Dzamara in March 2015, in direct contravention of a High Court order, remains a concern. His brother Patson Dzamara, a prominent human rights activist himself, was abducted at gunpoint, beaten and threatened in November 2016.

In October 2016 public hearings on electoral law amendments conducted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs were disrupted and a number of MPs and officials assaulted 1. Two Parliamentary by-elections were held during the reporting period, in Norton on 22 October 2016 and Chimanimani West on 26 November 2016. There were reports of intimidation, rape, assisted voting, partisan food aid and vote buying during these campaigns. Partisan distribution of food was also reported in seven provinces in October 2016 2. An investigation conducted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) between May and August 2016 revealed evidence of partisan distribution of food by district administrators, village heads, headmen and village secretaries in Bikita East, Mazowe Central, Muzarabani North and South and Buhera North. It is encouraging that in spite of severe resource constraints the ZHRC completed these investigations, and put pressure on the government to respond. A number of public statements from senior political figures have reiterated the right of all Zimbabweans to access food aid regardless of their political persuasion.

Enforcement of property rights remains weak. Illegal land invasions have been carried out during the reporting period, for example the invasion and enforced displacement of the Marima family in Masvingo in October 2016 3. Government bodies have, on multiple occasions, failed to respect the provisions of the Constitution regarding eviction and demolition of property. The government of Zimbabwe has failed to ensure that orders of its own courts are promptly and properly enforced, including in the long-standing cases of the Connolly and Rankin farm invasions, and to ensure that the rule of law is fully implemented with regard to property rights. Investigations around the circumstances of the seizure of the Westwood family’s business are yet to be conducted. The UK raised these and other human rights issues with Finance Minister Chinamasa in July in London, and with Minister for Information, Media and Broadcasting Mushowe in September in Harare. Rather than tackling the substantive legislation needing alignment with the constitution, the government has put through omnibus bills making small technical changes to large numbers of existing bills. These have made some progress through Parliament. Section 210 of the constitution obliges the government to enact legislation setting up an effective and independent mechanism for receiving, investigating and remedying complaints from the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services. To date, no such mechanism has been set up. The ZHRC may also investigate complaints of misconduct and abuse by members of the security services but is not adequately resourced to fulfil its mandate.

The broadcast media continues to be largely controlled by the state, while a relatively free print media operates alongside government publications. A proposed cyber bill obliging social media providers to install snooping software, and suggestions from the government regulator that minimum charges would be enforced on data and voice telephony are of concern. Social media was a primary communication method to rally protesters during the reporting period.

The government of Zimbabwe engaged seriously in Zimbabwe’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and sent a high level delegation, headed by Vice President and Justice Minister Mnangagwa, to present its report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in November. The government of Zimbabwe undertook to focus during the next four years on economic recovery, agriculture, food security, education and health. It committed to step up efforts to improve prison and police cell conditions including through decongestion, and to consider their position with regards to the death penalty. The government of Zimbabwe accepted both of the UK’s formal recommendations. We will use the tripartite process (government of Zimbabwe, UN and NGOs) to press for delivery on these commitments, calling on international community support were appropriate.

In its statement at the UPR hearing, the UK welcomed the 2013 constitution but expressed concern at the lack of government adherence to it and the slow progress of legislative alignment. We noted that restrictions on the right to assembly, police brutality and abductions all breached the terms of the Constitution. The UK also raised concerns over reports by the ZHRC of political violence and partisan distribution of food aid. The UK called for these concerns to be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted. The UK reiterated the importance of respect for the right to shelter and property rights and highlighted that statements or legislation which call for the denial of property rights based on racial origin were incompatible with Zimbabwe’s international obligations. The United Kingdom recommended to that the government of Zimbabwe that they: Fully respect the spirit and letter of the 2013 constitution and ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and immediately publish a timeline ensuring that legislation, including the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and relevant electoral legislation will be aligned with the constitution before the end of the 8th Parliament.

In 2016 the UK funded training for Zimbabwe’s senior prosecutors on the effect of human rights legislation and the constitution on Zimbabwean law. With the Department for International Development, we have continued to work through the multi-donor Transparency, Responsiveness, Accountability and Citizen Engagement (TRACE) Programme to improve access to justice, media and information freedom and to improve the electoral environment in advance of the 2018 elections. The British Embassy in Harare has worked with non- governmental organisations, and the international community to facilitate discussions leading to action against gender based violence, in support of women’s empowerment and to promote the rights of young people. The Embassy regularly meets with activists, democracy campaigners, parliamentarians and political leaders from all parts of the political spectrum in order to encourage engagement, dialogue and a more open society in which the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe are respected.

The UK continued to call publicly for the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law and human rights, while encouraging Zimbabweans of all political persuasions to exercise their democratic rights, including through free and fair elections, under the protection of the 2013 constitution and international human rights law.

  1. information from the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)

  2. information from the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)

  3. information from the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)