Some international human rights organizations have appealed to the South African government, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to intervene in Zimbabwe where state security agents are using excessive force to stop public protests over serious economic problems in the country.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) say the situation in Zimbabwe is worsening as armed soldiers and policemen are invading homes, beating up and shooting some innocent civilians following protests on Monday that left scores of people dead and others nursing severe injuries.
Human Rights Watch southern Africa director, Dewa Mavhinga, told VOA Studio 7 they hope South Africa, SADC and the AU would take immediate action to stop the violence.
“This might not go away because it is a message from the people to the government. We at Human Rights Watch together with Amnesty International have contacted the South African government, SADC and the African Union and encouraged them to intervene at this stage to avoid further bloodshed.
He said it was worrying that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who played a key role in the removal of Robert Mugabe from office, is brutalizing Zimbabweans the same way the former ruler terrorized citizens for more than 37 years.
“Noone ever expected that a government that calls itself a new dispensation could go on the streets and shoot people while the leader is in Europe asking for investments, it’s a contradiction … Zimbabwe authorities have a duty to maintain security during protests, but they need to do that without using excessive force. Those responsible for using unlawful lethal force should be promptly investigated and held accountable.”
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa has accused Zimbabwe’s opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, for the outbreak of violence in the country claiming that it wants to overthrow the Zanu PF government.
“Pursuant to this nefarious agenda, the MDC Alliance activated its notorious terror groups, which include the so-called Democratic Resistance Committee and para-military vanguard … Threats to overthrow a constitutionally-elected government by force and install an unelected person as president of Zimbabwe will be thwarted - it won't work.”
But MDC chairperson Thabitha Khumalo dismissed Mutsvangwa’s remarks saying, “The Zanu PF government has failed to reboot the economy and now it is turning against its own people who were protesting peacefully. It is using excessive force to force people to accept their failure.”
The shutdown, called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and some non-governmental organizations in reaction to increased prices in fuel and shortage of basics including cash and food, coincided with President Mnangagwa’s trip to various countries in Eastern Europe, including Russia, and also Switzerland for the World Economic Forum in Davos.
In videos and images circulated on social media, a man in civilian clothes but armed with an AK-47 military assault rifle shot at protesters in Harare on January 14. Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry tweeted early on January 15 that the police sought public assistance to identify the man with the assault weapon shown in the video. Witnesses and local activists reported that uniformed members of the security forces fired on protesters in Epworth, Chitungwiza, Bulawayo and Kadoma.
Members of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch they provided emergency medical services to 25 people with gunshot injuries. They also said that two people in Chitungwiza and three in Kadoma had died from gunshot wounds.
Zimbabwe’s State Security Minister announced Monday that more than 200 people had been arrested.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sudden announcement of a fuel price increase of 150 percent on January 12 led the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions labor movement to call for a three-day national strike, which triggered the protests.
Protesters burned a police station, barricaded roads with large rocks, and looted shops in Harare, Kadoma, and Bulawayo. Government security forces responded with live ammunition, rubber bullets, and teargas, which they fired at the protesters and into people’s homes.
Mavhinga further noted that the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that all security forces shall use nonviolent means before resorting to force.
“Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except in self-defense or to protect others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that uniformed members of the police and army carried out apparently indiscriminate door-to-door raids in some Harare suburbs on January 14, forcibly entering homes by breaking doors and windows. The authorities then proceeded to assault some occupants and, in some instances, forced residents out of their homes.
Reacting to the protests, the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority ordered mobile phone providers to block the internet and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and messaging app, WhatsApp.
“Doctors from the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch that shutting down the internet had disrupted their efforts to coordinate much-needed medical assistance for victims of police shootings. Blanket, open-ended shutdowns of the internet violate the right to freely seek, receive, and impart information, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Zimbabwe government should immediately restore internet and social media access,” Mavhinga said. “All Zimbabweans have a right to access information and peacefully express their views.”