ZIMBABWE has recorded 2 683 cases of human rights violations against human rights defenders, mainly perpetrated by State security agents and the Judiciary, human rights organisations have said.
In a latest report titled Communiqué Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in the Sadc Region, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, in partnership with Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, said the Zanu PF regime was weaponising the justice system to target human rights defenders.
“Southern Africa is always witnessing an alarming increase in the judicial, physical harassment of human rights defenders and the enactment of restrictive legislation as tools to silence them, and pressure them into discontinuing their legitimate activities. In 2022 alone, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum recorded 2 683 cases of violations against human rights defenders (HRDs). This includes assaults, abductions, verbal threats, arbitrary arrests, detentions and prosecutions,” the report read.
“These acts have been accompanied by the undermining of the independence of the Judiciary and other public institutions meant to ensure democratic principles and the rule of law.
“The State has particularly weaponised its criminal justice system to target HRDs by subjecting them to prolonged pre-trial detention without access to bail, and malicious and lengthy prosecutions. This includes the case of Zimbabwean opposition Member of Parliament Job Sikhala who was arrested in June 2022 after attending the funeral of opposition political activist, Moreblessing Ali, who was found mutilated and murdered, after going missing for three weeks.”
Sikhala has now clocked nearly nine months in pre-trial detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
The organisations said cases against human rights defenders were likely to increase as the country gears towards elections, a move which is going to further shrink civic space.
“This has been the trend in the past election cycles. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has openly threatened government critics, independent civil society organisations, including legal and medical organisations providing services to victims of human rights violations, as well as members of opposition parties. In cases of violations of the right to life, to be free from arbitrary detention and cruel and inhumane treatment, there has been little to no accountability, breeding a culture of impunity and lawlessness,” the report said.
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They called on Zimbabwe to protect and fulfil her human rights obligations under the Sadc Treaty and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In response to allegations that the Judiciary was committing human rights violations, Judicial Service Commission spokesperson Daniel Nemukuyu said: “Judicial officers deal with cases that are brought before them. The courts do not decide who should be arrested or not.”