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Zim Urged to Honour SADC, AU Free Poll Guidelines

 

THE Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe has been called to honour electoral guidelines set by SADC and the AU. The call was made by the American-based Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Human Rights and Justice in a recent pre-election situation report released on April 2, 2013, in Washington DC.

 

The RKF Centre recently concluded a fact finding mission to Zimbabwe amid a palpable concern on the political developments, particularly the treatment of human rights defenders and clampdown on civil society organisations as the power-sharing Government prepares to close shop to allow for elections expected between June and September in 2013.

 

Though the Centre's delegation was snubbed by the Zimbabwe African Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), they managed to meet various stakeholders in both government and civil society.

 

"The RFK Centre is profoundly concerned about the systematic repression of civil society in violation of its international human rights obligations under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

 

"The pattern of suppression, including the criminalization of human rights defenders, represents clear violations of the rights to freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and imperils the rights of all Zimbabweans to participate freely in the government of their country.

 

The RFK Centre said it "respectfully € reminded the Zimbabwean authorities of the southern African country's commitments under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.

 

They specifically referred to Article 4, which stipulates that "human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are principles guiding the acts of its members. €

 

The African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) recently called upon all states parties to "respect their obligations under the African Charter, in addition to other regional and international human rights conventions, and take all necessary measures to preserve and protect the credibility of the electoral process, € the RKF Centre reiterated.

 

They added that: "The ACHPR specifically called upon Zimbabwe 'to give effect to its obligations under the African Charter in accordance with Article 1, including in areas of free participation in the government.' €

 

The Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, Santiago A. Canton bemoaned developments such as the harassment of human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, blitzkrieg on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as the raid on Prime Minister's Office and banning of communication gadgets such as hand-cranked and solar powered radios.

 

"The fact that the police are targeting these vital and necessary organizations in the months leading up to the elections should be of international concern, € said Canton, who is a human rights expert.

"This systematic assault must cease immediately so as to guarantee the active participation of civil society organizations during this critical point in time. €

 

The Centre's President Kerry Kennedy weighed in by showing widespread disapproval of the Zimbabwean authorities' actions mainly - the attack on NGOs doing voter mobilisation and banning of radios.

 

"This unequivocal attack on grassroots organizations that simply mobilize voters is astounding, due to both its brazen nature and the relentlessness with which the authorities have pursued their leaders.

"Together, broad-based civic organizations, youth groups, and independent media, including community radio stations, are necessary to cultivate a democratic conscience and instil democratic values throughout the world.

"It is reprehensible and highly unfortunate that authorities in Zimbabwe are actively working to counteract this necessary building block for long-term, genuine democracy, € Kennedy said.

 

The RKF recalled that a group of three UN Special Rapporteurs - the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya and the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue - all spoke out on the untenable Zimbabwean situation in February 2013.

 

The three urged Zimbabwe to "ensure everyone's voice is heard, in view of the recurrence of acts of intimidation and harassment against those exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, which are essential components of democracy. €

 

The RFK Centre delegation's visit coincided with the imprisonment of prominent Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and four of the PM's staffers following a raid at his communication office at No. 14 Bath Road in Belgravia Harare a day after the historic constitutional referendum held on March 16.

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