BY DARLINGTON MWASHITA
THE Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has expressed concern over the continued violation of citizens’ rights in the country.
In a statement to mark International Day of Democracy which was observed on Sunday under the theme, Participation, ZLHR called for the review of the state of democracy in the world and an increase in public awareness about the subject.
The lawyers’ organisation said governments should promote and uphold its principles and consider how to increase public participation in democracy across the globe and better decision-making and strengthening politicians’ accountability to the people.
“Taking part in democracy is something that everyone can and should do, at different levels. Participation is vital for a robust democracy, also citizens have a certain number of rights, responsibilities and fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and access to information and political rights. This results in citizens being active participants in building a thriving democratic State.”
ZLHR said it was “extremely concerned” about the erosion of participation rights in Zimbabwe, which has undermined civic space over the years.
“Rapidly shrinking and closing of the civic space is evidenced by the government’s clampdown on human rights defenders (HRDS) with increased criminalisation of HRDs activities,” said the organisation.
ZLHR said records indicate that 23 people are currently facing charges of subverting a constitutionally-elected government.
“Several HRDs have been abducted, tortured and the president of Hospital Doctors Association Peter Gabriel Magombeyi, who is also a doctor on September 14 at about 10pm was reported to have been abducted by three unknown men as in all incidents of abductions, police reports have been made and there have been no tangible updates on investigations,” ZLHR said.
“A number of journalists have been targeted through arrests, detention and seizure of tools of trade, (while) lawyers representing those asserting their rights to freedom of assembly (have also not been spared). A few weeks ago, human rights lawyer Doug Coltart was assaulted and arrested as he was representing his clients. Trade unionists have also been arrested. Protests organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been prohibited or banned.”
The lawyers’ body said incidents and cases highlighted show a disturbing trend on systematic violation of fundamental rights and freedoms that enable participation in a democracy.
“ZLHR encourages the government to embrace this year’s theme without any reservations,” it said.