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Human Rights Watch Calls for Zimbabwe Security Sector Reforms Ahead of Polls

Security forces
As Zimbabweans prepare for what promises to be one of the vigorously contested elections in the country’s history, a renowned human rights watch dog has called for urgent security sector reforms ahead of the polls.

The New York based Human Rights Watch released a report on Wednesday warning that the current partisan status quo of the security operatives is the biggest threat to free and fair election in Zimbabwe.

The report titled, “The Elephant in the room: Reforming Zimbabwe’s Security Sector Ahead of the Elections,” speaks about an obvious, huge and visible problem that people are afraid of tackling head on. The 44-page report makes it clear that without security sector reforms it will be difficult for Zimbabwe to deliver a credible poll.

It wants the government of national unity to stop members of the army, police and central intelligence from directly or indirectly involving themselves in elections or party politics.

The organisation’s researchers who visited Bulawayo, Midlands, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, East and West, were told of incidents where members of the security forces are being used to persecute those opposed to Zanu-PF.

They also discovered that soldiers had been deployed in some areas to harass and intimidate supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change and leaders of the civil society.

Tiseke Kasambala, Africa Advocacy Director at the Human Rights Watch, told Studio 7 that recent utterances by some in top positions in the security sector makes it a must for reforms to be done before the elections.

She cited the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, Perence Shiri, who recently described Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as a sell out and a psychiatric patient.

Kasambala says it’s time for some in the military to be investigated, prosecuted and jailed for undermining the laws that demand impartiality within the military.

The report also points out that the security sector commanders namely Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Army Commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, Air Force Commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and Prisons Commissioner Paradzai Zimondi, have openly defined themselves as Zanu-PF supporters by attending the party’s annual conference held in Gweru last year.

The report chronicles a lot of incidents and comments made by those in the security sector as evidence that, if reforms are not carried out, they will go to extremes to influence the results of the elections.

And Arnold Tsunga, Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights agrees.

Arbitrary arrests of civil society leaders, human rights defenders and those opposed to Zanu-PF are also cited in the report as evidence of a partial police force that needs urgent reforms.

Kasambala says the challenge is now on the government of national unity to ensure that those in the security sector who display partisanship are dealt with accordingly.

She urges the South African Development Community’s summit on Zimbabwe scheduled for June 9 in Mozambique, to make it clear to Harare that the regional body will not accept the results of an election whose outcome has been influenced by the military, the police or members of the intelligence.

The report recommends the deployment of long term election observer missions in Zimbabwe, ahead of the polls, to monitor and make recommendations for credible, free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, speaking in parliament Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said Zimbabwe must respect last week’s constitutional court judgement directing that the country holds elections by July 31 this year.

Responding to questions by lawmakers on the implications of the ruling, Mr. Mutambara said whether people like it or not, the decision of the constitutional court has to be respected. The country, he said, simply has no choice.

He said Zimbabweans must not waste time debating the ruling but must now start implementing reforms that make sure the country holds free, fair and peaceful elections.

For example, Mr. Mutambara said, every Zimbabwean who is eligible to vote must be registered ahead of the polls. He also called for urgent media reforms.

The deputy prime minister said with political will and enough resources it is possible for Zimbabwe to deliver a credible election by July 31.

He said in future, laws that led to last Friday’s ruling must be changed, adding competent judges must be appointed to the bench.

Mr. Mutambara urged the international community, South Africans in particular, to respect the ruling by Zimbabwe’s highest court. This was in apparent reference to a statement attributed to SADC-appointed mediator in Harare, South African President Jacob Zuma, that elections will be held only after media reforms regardless of the constitutional court ruling.

At the same time, Finance Minister Tendai Biti told parliament that Treasury has no money to fund elections.

Mr. Biti said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa is blocking financial support from outside bodies such as SADC and the United Nations. But President Mugabe on Sunday said Zimbabwe has the resources to fund the election, adding the country will only accept assistance from SADC.