30 January, 2019
Zimbabwe: End crackdown on freedom of assembly and expression, and harassment of human rights defenders
The Pan-Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) and the undersigned organisations condemn the excessive use of lethal force by Zimbabwean security forces in a bid to disperse peaceful protestors. PAHRDN is concerned with the harassment and allegations of torture of human rights defenders (HRDs), their family members, and legitimate political opponents following the January 2019 demonstrations.
From 14 January, Zimbabweans took to the streets protesting soaring living costs and the government’s sudden decision to hike the price of fuel. According to globalpetrolprices.com, Zimbabwe now has the most expensive fuel in the world. Security forces used live ammunition to quell the protests and civil society organisations report at least 12 people killed since the protests broke out, and many others injured. Civil society organisations that are providing medical care to victims of the protests such as Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights have been told to shut their facilities and not attend to the injured. Several HRDs, including a trade union leader and five members of parliament, were detained for allegedly organising the protests. Additionally, many HRDs are still being detained and unjustifiably denied bail by magistrates. The state, through its State Security Minister, has also blamed civil society, pressure groups and the main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, for the protests that erupted in the country.
The State Security Minister further ordered an Internet shut down, in violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. Zimbabwe High Court Judge Owen Tagu ruled that“it has become very clear that the minister had no authority to make that directive””.
According to international human rights standards, every individual has the right to free expression, association and assembly. These rights can only be restricted in conformity with the law and when necessary in a democratic society. Additionally, Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution guarantees the right to demonstration in section 59.
The UN Special rapporteur on freedom of association and assembly in his 2013 report observed that “the threats to association and assembly rights should be our deepest concerns, because association and assembly rights are crucial means for individuals to participate in public affairs.” Additionally, according to the report of the Study Group of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights on freedom of association and assembly in Africa, “assembly and association rights satisfy peoples’ fundamental desire to take control of their own destinies: … to hold their leaders accountable…” Zimbabwean citizens are justified in protesting against the critical economic situation, and their demand for accountability from the government is valid. Therefore, the heavy-handed response of the country’s security forces is in clear violation of human rights standards that Zimbabwe has committed to protect and respect.
“These new developments in Zimbabwe prove that this new leadership is nothing more than business as usual,” says Hassan Shire, Chairperson of PAHRDN. “These egregious abuses of fundamental human rights cannot be tolerated now, any more than they were under the previous regime.”
We urge the government of Zimbabwe to respect the right to demonstrate as set out in its 2013 Constitution and stop the use of live ammunition to disperse protestors, cease the harassment of HRDs, and refrain from using the judiciary to facilitate a clampdown of fundamental rights and freedoms. Further, we call on the government of Zimbabwe to carry out investigations into the use of force and reports of violence carried out by security forces, and ensure accountability.
Akina Mama wa Afrika
Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Institute for Human Rights Development in Africa
Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN)
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)
Tunisian League for Human Rights
West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)