26 March 2010

Zimbabwe: 'National Healing an Exercise in Futility'

ZIMBABWE'S national healing process is not clear and is perceived by victims of political violence as an exercise in futility. The failure by the unity government to come up with transitional justice mechanisms adds to the growing disappointment of victims who have lost faith in the organ of national healing set up under the terms of the global political agreement (GPA).

Victims and analysts contend that wounds inflicted and trauma experienced during politically-motivated violence surrounding elections and other episodes of human rights violations can only heal when government embarks upon effective transitional justice.

Transitional justice is defined worldwide as a response to "systematic or widespread violations of human rights and it seeks recognition for victims and to promote possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy". It is justice adapted by societies transforming themselves after a period of pervasive human rights abuse.

Dogged by tension-filled elections since Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe's human rights record before and after polls has been appalling, despite constitutional guarantees of protection from such abuse.

After signing the GPA, which gave way to the formation of the inclusive government, the new administration put in place several institutions that would help redress human rights violations.

Firstly, there was an Organ on National Healing and Integration to calm political tension and then more recently the long overdue Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission which came out of the 19th Constitutional amendment.

Critics however argue that the national healing organ has not fulfilled its mandate of pacifying the animosity between Zimbabwe's rival political parties.

The organ last weekend had a rude awakening when scores of MDC-T supporters protested in central Harare, demanding justice for politically-motivated offences that took place during the countdown to the bloody June 27 2008 presidential election run-off.

The protesters submitted a petition to the Attorney-General's office demanding the arrest of the perpetrators of the violence.

The MDC-T claims that over 200 of its supporters were killed during the 2008 elections, thousands injured and displaced.

Dennis Murira, the MDC-T director of elections who came face-to-face with political violence in 2008, feels the national healing organ is passive.

Chronicling his alleged assault at the hands of state agents, Murira questions the effectiveness of the national healing process.

"The problem with the Organ on National Healing and Integration is that it is a toothless bulldog with neither a bark nor a bite," says Murira in a book titled Cries From Goromonzi: Inside Zimbabwe's Torture Chambers.

For him, the process is targeting the "wrong people" such as chiefs and church leaders who were not the perpetrators.

Instead the exercise should target state institutions such as the army, intelligence and police which the MDC blames for fomenting violence during past elections.

Murira said: "We want to know who was supplying all the unmarked vehicles and who was commanding them. There should be total disclosure and truth telling and an element of justice. Some crimes are pardonable but others including rape and torture are not. Those who perpetrated these crimes should be brought to and must stand trial. We cannot continue sweeping these crimes under the carpet as the cycle of violence will continue...As long as there is no total disclosure and justice and as long as people do not own up to any wrongdoing the national healing process will be a charade."

Some of the wives and children of political activists allegedly slain in cold blood continue to bear the brunt of losing their spouses to Zimbabwe callous politics. Any mention of elections and every second that ticks towards polls, sends shivers down the spine of the electorate.

Plaxedes Mutariswa, wife of the late MDC-T activist Tonderai Ndira, says she continues to live a nightmare since her husband was gruesomely murdered in the countdown to the run-off election. No one has been charged with Ndira's murder.

But with disclosure and transitional justice, exposing the truth of what happened on the fateful day her husband was slain could set her emotionally free.

"I do not know what these people did to my husband," she says. "I do not know the pain and suffering he went through and I do not know what his last thoughts and words were. But I want whoever murdered my husband to face justice. Perpetrators should be arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. You cannot take life and live your life as if nothing happened. As long as it is protecting these people, the inclusive government cannot bring healing to me."

Apart from compensation, the International Centre for Transitional Justice says transitional justice can also be achieved through truth commissions.

Zimbabwe could learn a lesson on this from neighbouring South Africa, which set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after gaining democratic rule in 1994.

These commissions of inquiry have the primary purposes of investigating and reporting on key periods of recent past abuse. They are often official state bodies that make recommendations to remedy such abuse and to prevent its recurrence.

That Mashonaland Central was one of the worst affected provinces affected by the 2008 elections is indisputable. To recognise the violations on victims, government can set up memorial sites in such areas.

After the Sharpeville massacres where many black South Africans were killed for protesting pass laws, the post-apartheid government established a memorial site to honour the victims of the bloody police attacks.

The GPA assures justice on politically related crimes but implementation thus far has been lethargic. Some victims continue to cry in the wilderness hoping and in some cases without hope that justice will prevail.

The anguish of those living like hermits fearing impunity is untold. All they have to live with are cosmetic efforts to let bygones be bygones.

Article XVIII (j) of the GPA speaks on the role of the state to prosecute perpetrators of politically-motivated violence.

It states that "while having due regard to the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the principles of the rule of law, the prosecuting authorities will expedite the determination as to whether or not there is sufficient evidence to warrant the prosecution or keeping on remand of all persons accused of politically related offences arising out of or connected with the March and June 2008 elections."

Analysts say the culture of impunity in Zimbabwe is nurtured by the politicisation of government institutions and hate-filled pronouncements by political players some of whom have boasted of having "degrees in violence".

Apart from the bloody 2008 elections, Zimbabwe has had numerous episodes of human rights violations. Gukurahundi atrocities in Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands provinces and the displacement of people in ill-advised government policies such as the land reform exercise and Operation Murambatsvina are cases in points.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights national director Irene Petras contends that the process of transitional justice should be holistic and reflective of the victims' needs.

"It should be holistic," Petras said. "It is important to go back in time to include past violations but I think it is important to go out there and gather what the people want and what time frame."

Reports of intimidation and harassment have also reportedly resurfaced in some parts of the country following pronouncements by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that elections should be held next year.

NGOs, ZimRights and ZLHR recently appealed to co-Home Affairs ministers and police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri to guarantee their safety citing an escalation of intimidation and harassment against civil society.

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