10 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Rights Report Warns of Flawed Election If Key Reforms Are Ignored

A new report by the respected global rights monitor, Human Rights Watch, has warned Zimbabwe's unity government that time is running out to implement key reforms that were agreed to in the Global Political Agreement (GPA), if credible elections are to be held later this year.

Titled "Race Against Time - The Need for Legal and Institutional Reforms Ahead of Zimbabwe's Elections", the report says the main purpose of the GPA was to establish institutional and legal reforms which would help create an environment conducive to holding free and fair elections.

But over four years since the GPA was signed, "little progress has been made" in addressing the various "political, institutional and human rights issues" that were aimed at preparing the country for credible elections, the report says.

According to Human Rights Watch, these reforms "have either not been introduced or are not being implemented." The reforms include amendments to repressive laws that include Access to Information, Public Order and Security and the Presidential Powers Act, which empowers Robert Mugabe to act unilaterally to enact legislation.

Researcher Dewa Mavhinga who put the report together, told SW Radio Africa they did an audit of the progress made by the unity government towards election, and found that there is no political will within Zimbabwe to move forward towards the next poll.

"If there was political will it would not have taken them so long to do very little in the time that they have had since signing the GPA. Yes we acknowledge the absence of political will and look to SADC, the African Union and international community to pressure Zimbabwe to reforms before elections," Mavhinga said.

He explained that the guarantors of the GPA, SADC, need to go beyond the first step of talking about reforms in Zimbabwe, and look at ways to penalise any officials that hinder progress towards reforms.

"This is the area that we really feel that SADC has had shortcomings. It had not clearly spelled out what happens to those unity government officials who are obstructing key reforms towards elections. They must spell out what happens, including suspension from SADC or sanctions if necessary," Mavhinga stressed.

The report put the blame squarely on ZANU PF's refusal to implement specific reforms and on the unity leaders' failure to act on the violence that they publicly denounce and warn supporters to shun. With the violence and intimidation continuing a fear of elections remains in the electorate.

"On a number of occasions since the unity government assumed office, President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC have issued joint public statements condemning political violence, but with no corresponding action to dismantle the infrastructure of violence and end impunity," the report said.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on the unity government to fully implement all provisions of the GPA, repeal or amend all repressive legislation and ensure that perpetrators of past abuses are held accountable. The report also calls for the replacement of partisan heads of police and other security forces.

Mavhinga said the report will be circulated to officials in the unity government, SADC, African Union and the international community. This is so they can understand the situation on the ground and legislative challenges faced by Zimbabwe ahead of the next election.

According to Human Rights Watch, if elections are not held in March as desired by Robert Mugabe, the latest date allowed by the constitution would be October 29th.

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