CIVIC organisations have expressed concern over the continued targeting of human rights defenders by State actors and government’s refusal to accept key recommendations that would greatly improve the human rights record of the country.
by Phyllis Mbanje
Responding to the adoption of the Zimbabwe report during the session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the human rights defenders said although they recognised the co-operation by the government’s continued engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), there was still no positive change in the human rights environment.
UPR process is a country-to-country review mechanism established to monitor the overall human rights situation of United Nations (UN) member states. Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was in Geneva Switzerland last week where he defended the country’s tattered rights record.
“The greatest sign of commitment by the government is not merely attending UPR sessions and accepting recommendations,” CIVICUS and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) in a joint statement, said.
The groups said they were saddened that despite consistent participation by Zimbabwe in successive UPR sessions, the situation on the ground remains dire with the State authorities showing disregard for basic freedoms, particularly the freedoms of assembly and expression.
“While we welcome the decision to repeal criminal defamation laws, harassment of journalists continues unabated,” further read the statement.
Human rights defenders said they also continued to face harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. State institutions such as the police, military and the intelligence were also accused of wilful violations.
Mnangagwa during last week’s session accepted nine and partially supported an additional six of the 100 recommendations that were deferred at its review in November 2016.
“Regrettably, some of the rejected recommendations mainly focus on the ratification of important human rights instruments,” said the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
The government refused to accept recommendations urging it to ratify the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its optional Protocol including ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance among others. The day March 9 marked two years since democracy activist Itai Dzamara disappeared without trace after being seized by suspected State security agents outside his Harare home.
The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) raised the red flag over the impending introduction of a cyber law in Zimbabwe. “We note that the Zimbabwean government is in the process of drafting a Cyber Crimes Bill which, if passed, will further curtail the right to freedom of expression and privacy; and will further impede the work of defenders,” ISHR said in a joint statement with ZLHR.