Civil Society Organization have condemned what they say was a violent state response to recent protests that hit Zimbabwe, which were organized by Pastor Evan Mawarire and Tajamuka-Sesijikile Campaign. They Zimbabwean leaders should address issues affecting local people instead of punishing civilians for expressing their dismay over the way they are being governed.
In a statement signed by 30 groups, representatives of civic society organizations said in the past few weeks they have assisted over 161 victims of state brutality.
Reading the statement on behalf of the organizations, Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project challenged the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to rebuke police brutality.
“We hereby call upon the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to condemn the brutalization of citizens by police officers when on duty and make public pronouncements on the illegality of police officers violating the rights of citizens when dispensing their duties, and to reassure the public that the police force is bound by the laws of Zimbabwe and that their conduct must remain guided by the laws of Zimbabwe and be done in a professional and non-partisan manner.”
Mukoko said Zimbabweans have a right to petition and demonstrate but that right was being applied selectively in Zimbabwe.
“In Section 55 (Constitution of Zimbabwe) Zimbabwean citizens have the right to demonstrate and petition. I think when the government decides to have riot police around protestors, they need to be conscious that there should not be selective application of the law. We have seen in the last two weeks the heavy handedness of the police when they were brought down by the police but last week when the Zanu PF youth demonstrated we did not see such heavy handedness. An equal application of the law will mean that all of us are citizens of this country.”
Gladys Hlatshwayo, director of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Network Trust, concurred, adding that Zimbabweans have to use their power to govern the nation through following provisions of the country’s constitution.
“As CSOs we condemn in the strongest of terms the excesses we have been seeing in terms of the conduct of the police during protests. The constitution allows citizens to protest and petition the Government where they feel their rights are not protected or when they feel the government should protect them on a particular issue.”
Lloyd Kuveya, Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of 21 human rights Organisations in Zimbabwe, told Studio 7 that institutions that have the constitutional mandate to protect people should do so.
Kuveya also called upon the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to investigate the alleged criminal violation of the rights of local people by state security agents.
“We have to continue to put pressure on the independent commissions, especially the ZHRC. They have a constitutional mandate to ensure that if people are beaten up or brutalised, they are going to protect the citizens. They cannot run away from that mandate. They have the mandate of the former office of the ombudsman and in accordance with that mandate they have a duty to ensure that where there has been criminal abuse of office by public officers they have a mandate to investigate and ensure there is redress.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission recently encouraged protesters to report any police brutality to the Commission. However, the Commission has only two offices, one in Harare and the other in Bulawayo, thereby making its access to the public difficult.
Kuveya, however, said the Commission should still investigate cases of police brutality from video footages circulating on social media instead of waiting for members of the public to report to them cases of alleged police brutality.
“The CSOs are demanding, among many other issues, the holistic and full implementation of the Constitution, especially as it relates to security sector reforms and governance; full restoration of the rule of law; respect for basic rights and freedoms as well as other institutional reforms which in thier view are requisites that will enable Zimbabwe to hold credible elections in 2018.”
The organizations also alleged that there is ample evidence showing that Zimbabwe's security sector remains highly partisan, unprofessional and politicized.
There was no immediate reaction from the police and Human Rights Commission.