Willful disregard of basic rights goes against the grain of reform

Willful disregard of basic rights goes against the grain of reform

"We cannot have a situation where people decide to sit in places not allowed and when police remove them they say no. We can't have that. That is a revolt to the system. Some are crying that they were beaten. Yes you will be thoroughly beaten. When the police say move you move. If you don't move, you invite the police to use force." - President Robert Mugabe, addressing delegates at the Zimbabwe embassy in Cairo, Egypt, on the arrest, torture and mistreatment of 15 trade unionists in Zimbabwe, September 23, 2006.

February 2009 marked the birth of a new political dispensation in Zimbabwe which many hoped would successfully drive the democratic agenda forward. Despite commitments made by the inclusive government to put in place democratic reforms, Zimbabweans are still faced with authoritarian laws that inhibit fundamental freedoms, nurture violence, harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy forces in Zimbabwe.

The retention by former ruling party ZANU-PF of key security institutions in the aftermath of the formation of the inclusive government has bred an insincerity so severe in character that it is becoming increasingly impossible for pro-democracy forces in Zimbabwe to conduct their work without hindrance from state security institutions such as the police and intelligence.

Much of the agreement that provided the basis for the inclusive government has not been implemented in either action or spirit. Violence and intimidation linked to elections and the control of resources, including diamonds, are becoming more widespread. The institutions of the state continue to largely serve and support ZANU PF hegemony in direct contradiction to the agreement.

Police have accelerated their restriction on freedom of assembly under the nefarious Public Order and Security Act (POSA), arguing that they intend to maintain peace. However, the law is constantly being used to violently disrupt peaceful demonstrations and justify the arrest of civil society activists and perceived opponents of ZANU-PF. A recent act of the abuse of POSA was when two Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition officers, Beloved Chiweshe and Maureen Gombakomba were arrested for allegedly contravening Section 24 (1) of the POSA on the 16th of November 2011. The pair was not formally charged.

POSA, which is illegally used not only to disrupt internal meetings but to stop social gatherings, is an anathema to human rights, democracy, and freedom of expression and what is needed now is legislation that makes police accountable when they irresponsibly invoke the law and use excessive force. In addition, there is need for legislation that trains the police on issues of human rights and ensures that powers vested in the police, especially when it comes to regulating public gatherings, are left to the judiciary.

The government of Zimbabwe must ensure that all arms of government uphold and respect basic freedoms including the freedoms of expression and association. The state should ensure that all laws concur with regional and international statutes including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in protecting the political rights for all its citizens regardless of political affiliation.

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