If I was the Zimbabwean government I would be shaking; my hands would be sweaty; I would want to pull a sickie and stay at home until it was all over. Zimbabwe is being examined today on its human rights record at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, in short the UPR.
The UPR is a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States every four years. It is an opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations and to fulfil their human rights obligations. And today the turn has come to Zimbabwe.
An examination report packed with lies
The Zimbabwean government has handed in a report on the human rights situation in the country to the UN General Assembly in preparation for the review. They mainly blame economic sanctions for the poor economic state of the country, which apparently hinders the government in taking the necessary steps towards guaranteeing human rights. They also claim that there are a number of national frameworks, laws and remedies protecting human rights. Most of these are dubious while others are straight up lies. One examples is “The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] which, inter alia, criminalises all forms of sexual abuse perpetrated on any individual.”
If this was true, political violence would not be an issue in Zimbabwe. Victims of political rape would simply go to the police and report the incident without being turned away. Today they can’t. The police would report on political violence without being afraid of losing their job. Today they don’t report. And an independent court would put an end to the impunity that exists today. Today impunity is one of the main reasons why political violence is taking place.
Another point the government is making is that, with regards to women, “Zimbabwe has enacted a Domestic Violence Act and created centres for victims of domestic violence.” The group of civil society organizations from Zimbabwe who has also handed in a report to the UN General Assembly with recommendations and concerns are asking, “Are there any measures being undertaken to assist women victims of other forms of violence within the communities?” And I agree with them. Why is the issue of politically motivated violence against women not included in the government’s efforts to improve and protect women’s rights? It looks as thought the government is actively avoiding to touch upon this issue.
Need of investigation of Political Violence
So if the Zimbabwean government is serious about the Criminal Law and the improvement of women’s rights I want to see them investigate and punish the people who has been involved in politically motivated violence. Not only the physical perpetrators, but more importantly the ones who order the violence from above such as politicians, “war veterans”, leaders in the security sector and in the military. As long as there is no government induced investigation of the past 10 years political violence there is no “criminalisation of all forms of sexual abuse perpetrated on any individual.” Nor is there any improvements of women’s rights now or in the future.
Therefore I also agree with the Zimbabwean civil society when asking the government,“how is the Zimbabwean government going to ensure that the justice delivery system facilitates access to justice for all without discrimination?”
Not a word arbitrary arrests and harassment of human rights defenders
Another issue that these civil society organizations point to is the many arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights- and political activists that take place in the country. The Zimbabwean government do not mention these with one word in their report (maybe because there is no way they can be linked to the issue of economic sanctions).
Nor do they mention the restrictive laws on freedom of expression, assembly and association such as the AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and the POSA (Public Order and Security Act). These laws should be reformed together with the Criminal Law Code and the Broadcasting Services Act as long as they are used to limit freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of opposition to the leading party.
Free and fair elections?
Another critical question asked by the civil society organizations is“What measures are being taken to protect the voter and the vote before, during and after the next elections?“ And I am looking forward to the response for that one. Not in writing or in words, but in action. Is the next election going to be free and fair? In my view it all depends on how all of the above issues are tackled.
There will not be a possibility for a free and fair election in an environment of impunity; police and security sector violence; restrictive laws on human rights activists and on critical voices in general; and lack of a free press.
Unfortunately I doubt that the Zimbabwean government is as nervous as I would be before an exam. Because they will probably pass the test with words and lies. But they will continue to fail in real life where real people are raped, tortured and silenced. And up until now this does not seem to bother them at all.