HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsKeep on bashing at human rights door

Keep on bashing at human rights door

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The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Hardly a day after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay left the country after a fact-finding mission last week, an MDC-T activist was killed by suspected Zanu PF thugs — thugs is the befitting description, no other — in Mudzi.

Said Pillay, warning against rushed polls that Zanu PF is insisting on this year: “Unless the parties agree quickly on some key major reforms and there is a distinct shift in attitude, the next election – which is due sometime in the coming year – could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections which resulted in rampant politically-motivated human rights abuses — including killings, torture, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, displacements and other violations.”

What followed in March 2008 were swift and brutal reprisals after Zanu PF lost a national election — both parliamentary and presidential – for the first time since independence in 1980. The violence was vile and unforgivable.

“I believe it is essential that a satisfactory new constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights is in place soon, so that the referendum to confirm it and all the electoral reforms necessary for a peaceful, free and fair election can be carried out before people go to the polls,” said Pillay.

As seen with Zanu PF over the past 12 years, especially in the wake of President Robert Mugabe’s loss to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the March 2008 presidential poll after which Zanu PF withheld the results for weeks as they scrambled to reverse the defeat, it’s not about solving problems, but about buying time. It’s clear that the wheels have been put in motion to stop the Copac-led constitution-making process which would lead to a clear path to democratic, free and fair elections.

It’s clear the outcomes from the Copac outreach are politically and economically threatening to their entrenched interests, so they will do practically everything to derail this. They will rope in the military to talk about dubious, nebulous “national values”. What national values are there in plundering and looting? What national values when some people have reportedly bought private jets from diamonds while the majority are wallowing in extreme poverty in this land of God-given plenty? What national values are there in this system of patronage and cronyism? As Nigerian rapper eLDee sang, it’s “the same breed with the same greed”.

Of course, the MDCs can’t do much about this because while they are in office, they are not in power. That is where Pillay and others come in with authoritative voices to make the right noises. Sadc itself rightly recognises this despite its most tame and tepid response as compared to its continental equivalent, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which has been decisive and quick in its zero tolerance on unconstitutional tendencies such as military coups among member states.

Pillay herself was attacked by the usual suspects, among them Zanu PF “strategist” Jonathan Moyo, for making an independent assessment of the human rights situation here. “First, does Pillay or any other right-thinking person honestly believe that she can objectively assess the human rights situation in Zimbabwe in 96 hours with any credibility worthy of being taken seriously by Zimbabweans and fair-minded observers around the world?” wrote Moyo in the State media.

Was Pillay supposed to camp in Zimbabwe for, say, a whole year to get the full picture? These human rights abuses are well documented and Pillay must have studied them before she came to Zimbabwe.

These abuses are played out openly and frequently globally by groups and individuals such as Chipangano and Jabulani Sibanda who have held whole communities captive for years. Pillay could also possibly have had sight of the damning report by South African army generals about the 2008 poll violence which has been kept secret.
In January this year, Pillay condemned the United States, saying she was “disturbed at the failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture, that took place” at Guntanamo Bay prison for Al-Qaeda terrorist suspects. It’s not as if she is targeting Zimbabwe alone, so smart Alecs like Moyo must not take us for simple Simons.

But then it’s not really surprising because it is the same Zanu PF that in July 2005 attacked UN Habitat executive director Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka for finding that Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) evictions had done “a catastrophic injustice to as many as 700 000 of Zimbabwe’s poorest citizens, through indiscriminate actions, carried out with disquieting indifference to human suffering”.
“The government of Zimbabwe should set a good example and adhere to the rule of law before it can credibly ask its citizens to do the same,” she said.
This is largely what Pillay urged last week.

Tibaijika further recommended that “those who orchestrated this ill-advised policy are held fully accountable for their actions”. So said Pillay last week. But that would be expecting too much from people who have been harbouring exiled Ethiopian dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu, who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen and women on his hands.

To put it in a nutshell, Zanu PF is imposing more of the same heavy-handed policies that have failed to modernise Zimbabwe and made the country more and more of a pariah and laughing stock. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
But they can’t slow down things forever in this age of the high-speed Internet.

That’s why we have to keep on bashing at the door of human rights even when the likes of
Pillay have left.

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