BY SILAS NKALA
LOCAL human rights groups have called out President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government for trampling on citizens’ rights under the guise of enforcing COVID-19 preventive measures.
The calls were made on Tuesday as the country joined the world in celebrating International Day of Democracy.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in a statement urged the government to adopt and implement measures that are legal, proportionate and respect basic principles of democracy in its battle to combat the spread of coronavirus.
“This year’s theme (COVID-19: A Spotlight on Democracy) is critical in that it puts a spotlight on democracy at a time the world is battling to contain the spread of coronavirus. This puts critical focus on how governments across the world are adhering to the essential elements of democracy which include freedom, respect for human rights, and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage,” read the statement.
“Across the world, democracy is facing challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic. While the world is confronted with combating the coronavirus pandemic, upholding principles of democracy should never be abdicated as it is crucial in ensuring the free flow of information and access to information, participation in decision-making, accountability and respect for fundamental freedoms.”
The human rights lawyers said it was disturbing that government was at the forefront of eroding the enjoyment and exercise of fundamental freedoms and rights through arrests, prosecution, abduction and persecution of human rights defenders including lawyers, journalists, ordinary citizens and perceived enemies of the State.
They said more worrying was government’s reluctance to ensure that the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, which government signed to on March 28, 2018 is domesticated.
“It is critical that the government exhibits transparency, is accountable in all its responses to combating coronavirus including enforcement of national lockdown measures to ensure that any emergency measures are legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory and above all, respect human rights and the rule of law,” ZHLR said.
“As we put a spotlight on democracy during COVID-19, ZLHR calls upon law enforcement agents to exercise due respect and restraint in enforcing national lockdown measures, government to speed up alignment of laws with the Constitution and ensure adherence to principles of democracy and constitutionalism, implement legal and administrative reforms to create a conducive environment that guarantees the respect and enjoyment of democracy and fundamental human rights and freedoms and ratify and domesticate the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance.”