Last Updated on 15 March 2013
THE Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has released a comprehensive statement condemning malpractises in terms of the operating environment as Zimbabwe prepares to vote in the historic national referendum, to decide on the COPAC Draft Constitution on Saturday March 16, 2013.
The pre-referendum statement was released by the ZLHR Board on behalf of the membership one day before the plebiscite on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harare. ZLHR assessed the legislative environment against the Global Political Agreement (GPA) stipulations.
"The GPA clearly stipulates that laws impacting negatively on fundamental rights and freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement were to be amended to ensure a conducive legislative environment. These undertakings were ignored, if not violated, with impunity, € the organisation said.
ZLHR cited issues of concern which include disruption of public meetings, biased Sate-controlled media and barring of access to information dissemination gadgets.
"The subsequent disruption of civic debates on the draft constitution, and heavy-handedness of the police action to prevent political players - including the Prime Minister himself - from carrying out such activities is a clear indication that legislative and institutional reform is not a government priority and such repressive laws will continue to be used selectively by unreformed state institutions and actors to prevent constitutional freedoms from being exercised due to lack of political will and failure to censure heavy-handed action whenever it occurs. €
The human rights lawyers' organisation acknowledged that representatives of the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) had lobbied for a relaxation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) provisions to enable free political activity. However ZLHR said if there was an acknowledgement that such laws were repressive the best thing is not to suspend but do away with the provisions.
ZLHR re-emphasized that the envisaged reform of the public broadcaster and state-media remained an outstanding GPA issue and that it had impacted on the pre-referendum processes.
"The publicly-owned but state controlled media (print and electronic) did a disservice to the nation by failing to provide programming and content that enlightened people in a comprehensive and educative manner about the contents of the draft constitution. There was inequality of access to such media by representatives offering dissenting views. €
ZLHR charged that, "repressive laws continued to be abused and selectively applied € to harass civil society and human rights defenders ahead of the referendum. They also complained that the police had allegedly been using the Broadcasting Service Act (BSA) to thwart access to information by the communities.
" €¦the Zimbabwe Republic Police has, since the beginning of the year, arbitrarily sought to 'ban' alternative sources of media - namely short wave radios. This has been followed by the confiscation of radios from CSOs and communities that have been searched or found to possess such gadgets.
"This unlawful confiscating of radios is directly linked to the closing up of access to diverse information and leads to a situation where people in communities are not able to get any alternative sources of information as they can not afford to buy newspapers, and in most cases there is no frequency for state-controlled broadcasting.
"This is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. €
Apart from the legislative framework, ZLHR also talked of other broader issues which include compliance with the GPA's Article VI, the operating environment for civil society and human rights defenders, ZEC's readiness and observers.