Johannesburg — Zimbabwe's incoming government should take concrete steps to fulfill the country's human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe, who was sworn in on August 22, 2013, following a disputed election in which his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party garnered more than two-thirds of the vote, is expected to announce his new administration this week.
Human Rights Watch identified key human rights priorities in its letter. They include the need to reaffirm the rights provisions in the new constitution, ensure justice and accountability for past abuses, uphold activists' rights to organize and operate freely without government harassment, and strengthen the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
"President Mugabe should publicly express his personal commitment to meeting Zimbabwe's human rights obligations," said Tiseke Kasambala, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "He should take responsibility for ensuring that rights are protected and that his officials uphold the law. The new administration needs to embrace a new, positive rights-respecting approach to governing."
Human Rights Watch urged Mugabe and his administration to take the following steps:
Reaffirm rights provisions in new constitution
Reaffirm the rights provisions in the new constitution, immediately amend or repeal laws as necessary to bring them in line with the new constitution, and ensure that government officials respect and protect these rights.
Ensure accountability for past human rights abuses
Investigate cases of serious abuses, including during the 2008 elections, and prosecute those responsible in accordance with international standards. Those prosecuted should include members of the security forces implicated in killings, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment. Provide appropriate redress to victims of government abuses.
Uphold Rights of interested Zimbabweans and Human Rights Defenders to organize and work in civic affairs
Send a clear public message to Zimbabwe's people that the new administration will honor its human rights obligations and not interfere with the rights of nongovernmental organizations to freely operate across the country and without fear of harassment, intimidation or arbitrary arrest.
Protect Media Freedom
Carry out policies that encourage, not weaken, freedom of the press. Ensure that the rights to freedom of association and assembly are fully realized, and promote free expression and communication. Amend or repeal repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Strengthen the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
Take immediate steps to ensure that the legislation establishing the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission complies fully with international standards. Ensure that the commission has adequate resources and has competent, independent and non-partisan secretariat staff. Expand the commission's mandate to allow it to investigate human rights abuses in 2008.
The government of Zimbabwe has important legal obligations under African and international human rights treaties that require it to respect the rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty and security of the person, as well as freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, Human Rights Watch said.
"President Mugabe should seize this opportunity to set Zimbabwe on a path that respects human rights and the democratic process," Kasambala said. "Placing human rights at the top of the agenda would send a clear message that Zimbabwe is committed to honoring its human rights obligations."