23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: UN Condemns Attacks On Zimbabwe's Human Rights Defenders

press release

The Office of the Commissioner on Human Rights (OCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland has condemned the recent attacks on human rights defenders in Zimbabwe ahead of elections which will take place this year.

In a statement issued by the OCHR spokesperson, Rupert Colville, the commission noted with concern the increase in arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment of human rights activists and innocent citizens. "We condemn recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment," OCHR said.

It cited the arrest of Okay Machisa, the director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and chairperson of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition on 14 January for allegedly publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration.

Machisa handed himself to the police accompanied by his lawyer, and remains in detention.

"In a previous incident, ZimRights Education Programmes Manager, Leo Chamahwinya, and ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson, Dorcas Shereni, were arrested by the police on 13 December 2012. They were both denied bail by the High Court and remain in detention.

"We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of Robert Mugabe's rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions, ahead of the elections which are expected to take place later this year," the OCHR said.

The OCHR report was issued at a time when the illegally appointed Zanu PF Masvingo provincial governor, Titus Maluleke on Thursday issued fresh threats, that he would ban civic organisations he accuses of interfering with the electoral process ahead of the next general elections expected this year.

Maluleke, who banned 29 NGO's last year accusing them of refusing to comply with government regulations to register, summoned 45 local civic organisations operating in Masvingo province and threatened to ban them if they interfered with the elections. Maluleke was accompanied by State security agents.

However, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Hon. Paurina Mpariwa has said Maluleke's threats are illegal and the NGOs should ignore them. The OCHR supports the work of the United Nations human rights mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Council and the core treaty bodies set up for monitoring State Parties' compliance with international human rights treaties and promote the right to development.

It also works to ensure the enforcement of universally recognized human rights norms, including through promoting both the universal ratification and implementation of the major human rights treaties and respect for the rule of law. Other hot spot countries that were mentioned by the OCHR on Sunday are Mali, Sri Lanka and Iran.

Navanethem Pillay who is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was in Zimbabwe last year when Zanu PF's desperate push for early elections that year suffered a major dent when she warned that holding the polls before reforms would be "suicidal".

"Unless the parties agree quickly on some key major reforms and there is a distinct shift in attitude, the next election which is due sometime in the coming year could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections which resulted in rampant politically-motivated human rights abuses including killings, torture, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, displacements and other violations," she said last year during her visit.

"I believe it is essential that a satisfactory new constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights is put in place soon, so that the referendum to confirm it and all the electoral reforms necessary for a peaceful, free and fair election can be carried out before people go to the polls."

"Realistically, this will take time, but it will be more important to get it right than to rush the process," she said, adding that the government must give the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) more time to update the voters' roll and supervise the referendum on the new Constitution before holding elections.

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