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Lack of Constitutional Reforms Irks Human Rights Groups

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government is being accused of failing to align over 250 laws with the country's new constitution.
Zimbabwe’s new constitution adopted overwhelmingly in a referendum turned one Thursday, but local and international human rights groups are slamming the government for allegedly failing to re-align some laws with the constitution resulting in the continued repression of the people.

In a press statement, Amnesty International says it has documented numerous cases over the last year where meetings or activities have been barred and human rights defenders arrested and charged.

“A year ago the people of Zimbabwe were celebrating a new Constitution which promised a much improved Declaration of Rights. Unfortunately, the government has since failed to amend or repeal all the laws rendered unconstitutional and continues to use these laws to repress people exercising their rights in Zimbabwe,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director of Southern Africa.

The organization said public order, security and criminal laws are being used to deny people their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, despite guarantees under the new Constitution.

In April alone, Amnesty International said, nearly a dozen demonstrators and community activists were arrested for organizing and taking part in peaceful protests in Masvingo.

"Independent journalism is under threat with journalists regularly arrested and charged. On 28 April, the editor of NewsDay, Nevanji Madanhire, and a reporter of the same paper were charged with contravening the criminal law after publishing allegations of police responsibility following the death of a four-year old who was killed by a minibus fleeing from the police.

Police banned a planned World Press Freedom Day march in Harare on May 3.

Muchena further said the new constitution "offers a blueprint of what Zimbabwe wants to become: a country that protects the rights and freedoms of all citizens under law A country where the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are respected and journalists and human rights defenders are able to conduct their work without fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest.”

“A year after it was signed into law, we call on the government to take urgent action to align the country’s laws with the new Constitution and to make the vision a reality.”

Amnesty International researcher Simeon Mawanza said the continued use of unconstitutional laws is a cause for serious concern.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has organised a discussion on the constitution titled “The Zimbabwe constitution one year on - gem or white elephant? National and regional reflections.”

The discussion will also see the rights group launching a report on the state’s compliance with the new constitution.

The event is in Harare at the Zimbabwe College of Music. Panelists at the event are South Africa’s retired Constitution Court judge Zak Yacoob, retired Zimbabwe High Court judge Moses Chinhengo, chairperson of the parliamentary committee on justice, Jessie Majome. Human rights lawyer, Brian Kagoro is the moderator.

Lawyer Dzimbabwe Chimbgwa concurs with Mawanza saying Harare is procrastinating.

Reacting to the criticism from human rights groups, Zanu-PF parliamentary chief whip, Joram Gumbo, said the human rights criticism is unwarranted.