Security sector reform back on the agenda

HUMAN rights groups have reignited debate around security sector reforms and want it concluded in the wake of the August 1 post-election violence and subsequent use of force by the army that left at least six people dead.

BY RICHARD CHIDZA

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s Blessing Gorejena told a Southern African Political and Economic Series (Sapes) discussion on Thursday that Zimbabwe’s military remains the “elephant in the room” as regards the country’s continued efforts to create a truly democratic State.

Gorejena said Zimbabwe’s army has consistently been found guilty of human rights abuses and excessive use of force in its quest to deal with political dissent.

The discussion centred on the work of the commission of inquiry into the shootings chaired by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The army has denied culpability despite video footage showing its members shooting at fleeing civilians.

“The inquiry should probably help give insights into how Zimbabwe can deal with the continued excessive use of force by the military. It is not happening for the first time because if you look at the major violent incidences over the years, the military has been identified as a key, if not main player, in those violations,” Gorejena said.

He added: “For the past 20 years or even in the period before this, the hand of the military in all violent epochs is clear. We have taken cases to court and in all the army has been found as having violated the rights of citizens. One of those cases resulted in the disbandment of the Sadc Tribunal which found in our favour with government clearly shielding perpetrators. The elephant in the room is not something that is very secret to us.”

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights executive director Roselyn Hanzi said senior figures in the country’s security sector who gave evidence before the Motlanthe-led commission blatantly lied under oath.

“We were concerned about the conduct of some of the officials who appeared before the commission and its failure to call them to order. There was lack of accountability on the part of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. In the past, there are numerous cases in which the military has been taken to court for violating citizens’ rights. In many of the cases victims would not be able to directly identify the perpetrators, but could link them through uniforms or vehicles used. The stance of the Ministry of Defence has always been to deny even where there is evidence,” Hanzi said.

“This needs to be worked on going forward for us to have a professional defence force that is subject to the dictates of the Constitution.”

Hanzi argued that the establishment of a complaints handling mechanism to help victims of security sector violations in Zimbabwe is also key as required by the Constitution.

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