THE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) should rein in security chiefs and ensure they conduct themselves in a non-partisan and professional manner before harmonised elections set for later this year, an international human rights watchdog has said.
In a 44-page report titled The Elephant in the Room: Reforming the Security Sector Ahead of Zimbabwe’s Elections, released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said Zimbabwe’s military and other security forces were interfering in the country’s political and electoral affairs in support of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, preventing Zimbabweans from exercising their rights to free expression and to vote.
Human Rights Watch is an international organisation operating in more than 40 countries, dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
“Sadc should make improving the behaviour of the security forces a key pillar of the Zimbabwe roadmap to credible, free, and fair elections,” Tiseke Kasambala, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“The coming elections are an important step in ending the country’s long-standing human rights crisis.
“With the security forces, right up to their top leaders, threatening and attacking Mugabe’s perceived opponents, Zimbabweans have little faith in the upcoming elections. Zimbabwe’s unity government is going to have to rein in the security forces and keep them out of politics if the elections are going to have any meaning.”
Security sector reforms have been the subject of a fierce war between parties in the shaky coalition government.
The two MDCs have been calling for security sector and media reforms, among other Global Political Agreement (GPA) outstanding issues, as a pre-condition to the holding of credible elections.
Zimbabwe National Army Commander General Constantine Chiwenga recently described Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as a “sell-out” and a person who needed psychiatric treatment while Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri described the MDC-T as a “party of malcontents” for demanding security sector reforms.
The two “securocrats” are among several commanders who have publicly declared their loyalty to Mugabe and Zanu PF against the letter and spirit of the GPA.
Last week Mugabe’s former ally, Simba Makoni, urged the 89-year-old leader to fire security chiefs dabbling in partisan politics.
“There is an urgent need, ahead of the elections, for Zimbabwe’s security forces to be drastically reformed, to create a political environment conducive for holding non-violent and credible elections,” reads part of the report.
“Should the security forces fail to adopt a professional, independent and non-
partisan role during elections, the new constitution and other recent reforms, including the setting-up of a new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the licensing of private daily papers, may be insufficient to deliver the elections needed to put Zimbabwe on a democratic and rights-respecting track.”
Despite the country’s Constitution demanding neutrality and impartiality, Kasambala said the security forces had shown no sign of meeting their obligations.
“The government needs to send a clear message by disciplining and prosecuting security force personnel and soldiers who violate the law for political reasons,” she said.