LOCAL human rights watchdog, Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT), has expressed concern over the alleged escalation of human rights violations in Masvingo’s Bikita West constituency ahead of a parliamentary by-election slated for next month.
BY SILAS NKALA
In its report released on December 25, HZT said the increase in human rights violations was likely to result in disputed election results.
The by-election will be held on January 21. The seat fell vacant a few months ago after Munyaradzi Kereke was jailed for rape.
Six candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to contest the seat. They include Beauty Chabaya (Zanu PF), Kudakwashe Gopo (ZimPF), Madock Tatirai Chivasa (NCA), Tanyaradzwa Terrence Makumbo (PDZ) and two independent candidates Heya Shoko and Innocent Muzvimbiri.
The opposition and independent candidates have accused the ruling party candidate and her campaign team of inciting violence and buying votes using government-sourced food aid, a charge Chabaya has denied.
“As aspiring candidates and parties mount their campaigns, HZT is greatly concerned about prevailing human rights violations and violence manifesting in the constituency,” HZT said.
“The situation is disheartening given that the constituency once had one of the most violent by-elections in 2001 pitting MDC and Zanu PF. As campaigns continue ahead of the January 21, 2017 by-election, HZT observed harvesting of fear given the past history of the constituency. Communities are being intimidated and mostly by being reminded of the past violence. Violations recorded in November 2016 also indicated that there was high level of intimidation constituting 47,37%, followed by unfair distribution of aid (mainly food and farming inputs) with 26.32%.”
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The organisation said the least recorded violations include forced attendance to political rallies and assault of opposition party supporters by ruling party activists.
“Partisan distribution of public resources including food and farming inputs is a new violation compared to those recorded in the 2000-2008 electoral episodes. It is good to note that violations that featured mostly in the past elections and by-election are not repeated in this upcoming by-election. Kidnappings, murder, torture, forced displacement are some of the violations. Nonetheless, any form of violation is unacceptable,” HZT said.
“Therefore, HZT implores the government and state security apparatus to prevent any form of violence and human rights violations by protecting citizens and ensuring that all contesting parties abide by the laws of the country and ethical electoral practices.
“The constituency experienced political violence and gross human rights violations since year 2000 during parliamentary elections pitting Zanu PF and the then newly formed opposition party MDC. Periods 2001, 2005, 2007-09 and 2013 are unforgettable depressing electoral episodes for the Bikita West residents as violence and gross violations haunted them (2001 and 2008 elections recorded highest incidences of violence.”