On October 15 2019, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum launched the 2018 State of Human Rights Report in Harare at Alliance Française at an event attended by media practitioners, civil society colleagues, development partners, academics, students and members of the development community, among others.
Dedicated to the six civilians who were killed by the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) on August 1 2018, the report is the most comprehensive appraisal of Zimbabwe's human rights situation produced every year by Zimbabwe's biggest and oldest human rights coalition, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the forum).
In the foreword to the report, the chairperson of the forum, Jestina Mukoko, notes that 72% of the human rights violations documented do not require money to resolve. "They only require the state to turn off its architecture of violence and torture," she says, "Surely, this is not asking for much."
A total of 15 chapters in the report are dedicated to an assessment of the human rights situation along thematic areas that include elections, governance, economy, socio-economic rights, civil and political rights, children's rights, women's rights, sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, environmental rights, business and human rights, freedom of the media, courts and access to justice, independent commissions, and ratification of international treaties. The final chapter of the report makes a raft of recommendations for state and non-state actors.
Key among the recommendations is the call for an inclusive and comprehensive national dialogue to create a culture of respect for human rights and restore the dignity of all persons. The report recommends greater compliance with the constitution, genuine and authentic reform of repressive laws, respect and strengthening of independent commissions, reform of the security sector as well as fair and impartial application of the law.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Blessing Gorejena, the executive director of the forum, said she hoped the report will help in escalating the conversation on the nation's human rights priorities.
Officially launching the report, Tabani Moyo, the executive director of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa), stated that the report is not about the past but the future.
"This is not just a report of the past," Moyo said, "but a projection of what our future will look like and what work we need to put in to ensure that we build a society in which all people will enjoy their rights."
This report was released at a time when some key developments are happening. First, it was released just after the visit by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule who concluded his 10-day mission on September 27 2019.
In his end-of-mission statement, Voule identified the same issues that were later to be reported in the 2018 State of Human Rights Report. These are issues to do with cosmetic changes to repressive legislation like laws replacing the Public Order and Security Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, malicious prosecution of human rights defenders as part of ongoing harassment, invasion of civilian space by the military, failure to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission, among other issues. This was an important development which pre-validated the allegations laid out in the 2018 State of Human Rights Report.
It was at the time when Voule was meeting with victims of human rights violations from Harare, Hwange, Bulawayo and other areas, that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and an entourage of Zanu PF youths were in New York presenting an image of reform and demonstrating against sanctions -- a useless public show from hell that cost the taxpayer thousands of scarce US dollars. The government's propaganda machinery forgot that the UN Special Rapporteur was in the country seeing the situation on the ground while they put up a useless show in New York.
We were later to learn from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Zimbabwe would soon prosecute the soldiers, who shot and killed civilians on August 1, 2018.
The second important thing that happened during this period was the convening of the 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in Banjul, where Zimbabwe presented its country report continuing with its propaganda that is absolutely detached from the situation on the ground.
In the same week that the session of the commission opened, the police tortured 10 informal traders who had been rounded up in dragnet arrests, killing one of them Tafadzwa Hilton Tamangani. The police also attacked a journalist for the NewsDay Ruvimbo Muchenje, who covering protests in Harare.
What is clear in these developments in a short space of time is that as a country we are in a human rights crisis and the government's approach to that crisis is simply to turn up the propaganda volume. Their denial of this crisis is so ridiculous to all people of common sense as the reality on the ground is shouting everyday that things are not okay.
The fact that we have to learn of the government's "intentions" to prosecute perpetrators of August 1 killings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not the Minister of Justice or Home Affairs tells us that this is not a programme but a spin to please the international community.
As a country, our motivations for observance of high human rights standards should not be to please any foreign governments, but rather for the benefit and dignity of the people of Zimbabwe. What matters is the situation on the ground, which continues to deteriorate with the state as the main perpetrator.
We now live in a time when it is no longer easy to lie because of the advent of new media and citizen witnesses. The propaganda is not working and will not work. Doing the right thing is probably the most cost-effective strategy for addressing our human rights crisis and restoring credibility.
Failure to observe human rights values cannot be blamed on sanctions because it does not require money to turn off the infrastructure of torture that is holding the people at ransom. It simply requires leadership with compassion, which is the main missing thing in our current situation.
Bere is the programmes co-ordinator at the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. He writes in his personal capacity.