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Human Rights Watch Says SADC Should Speak Out on Zimbabwe Govt's Intensified Crackdown on Opposition, NGOs

Arrested CCC activists appearing in court in Harare
Arrested CCC activists appearing in court in Harare

Human Rights Watch says the Southern African Development Community should speak out against Zimbabwean authorities’ intensified crackdown on opposition activists and civil society groups ahead of its summit in Harare.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has since 2017 committed serious human rights violations and failed to implement lasting reforms.

“Violence, intimidation, harassment, and repression aimed principally at opposition members and civil society activists have restricted civic and political space. Several activists have been abducted and tortured in the past year. The authorities have weaponized the criminal justice system against the ruling party’s political opponents. Opposition politicians have been held in prolonged pretrial detention or convicted on baseless, seemingly politically motivated charges.

“The government of President Mnangagwa is accelerating its crackdown against legitimate and peaceful activism ahead of the August summit … The Southern African Development Community needs to engage with the authorities to take clear measures to ensure the enjoyment of basic freedoms by all Zimbabweans. SADC should promote respect for human rights by calling upon Zimbabwe’s government to end repression and the arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of activists and opposition supporters. The pervasive climate of intimidation and repression needs to end.”

About 80 Zimbabwean Citizens Coalition for Change activists are currently in remand prison for attending a peaceful event in which they were commemorating International Day of the African Child. They are facing charges of bigotry.

CCC activists say the arrests have become the order of the day since Mnangagwa assumed power in 2017. Recently, members of the National Democratic Working Group led by Job Sikhala were arrested and a few days before that, some CCC activists were detained in the Midlands province at a remembrance ceremony of their colleagues who was killed by suspected Zanu PF followers two years ago.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa told a gathering of Zanu PF members last month that he was “aware of certain rogue elements within the nation who are being on peddling falsehoods and instigating acts of civil disorder, especially before, during and after regional and world stage events.

He said security agencies were on high alert to decisively deal with the so-called rogue elements. Similar sentiments were expressed by the country’s information minister, who said without elaboration, that “criminal and opportunistic elements within the opposition, certain politicians, and some civil society organizations” were “attempting to incite disorder and discontent.”

Human Rights Watch noted that SADC should use the August summit and President Mnangagwa’s chairmanship as an opportunity to encourage Zimbabwe to put in place key reforms to improve respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, in line with the SADC, which requires members to act according to these principles.

“Human Rights Watch and other organizations have reported numerous instances of the inability of the Zimbabwean judicial system to effectively provide remedies for alleged human rights violations. SADC member states should consider engaging the African human rights systems, such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to provide clarity on Zimbabwe’s obligations to protect all human rights under conditions laid down by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

Heads of state and government of SADC’s 16 members will meet on August 17, 2024, in Harare, Zimbabwe, for their 44th summit, where Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be taking over as chairperson of the subregional organization.