21 May 2012-We, the Zimbabwe Civic Society Organisations (CSOs), welcome the historic visit to Zimbabwe by the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Madam Navanethem Pillay.
We consider the visit by the High Commissioner, at the invitation of the Government of Zimbabwe, as a good opportunity for her to meet and interact with the various stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of human rights, in order to make an informed assessment of the situation on the ground and make recommendations thereafter.
In preparation for the maiden trip by the UN High Commissioner, more than fifty CSOs from different clusters and from around the country, led by the legitimate umbrella bodies, organised themselves and prepared for the scheduled one-and-a-half hour meeting with Madam Pillay to apprise her on the situation on the ground. All these plans were at a very advanced stage - with the venue, time and agenda finalised and communicated with the advance party of the UN High Commissioner.
It was thus with great shock that we learned that the Government of Zimbabwe, through the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs had ambushed the plans that had been made and already put in place by CSOs in preparation for the visit by the High Commissioner. The permanent secretary, David Mangota, had unilaterally changed the venue of the meeting, moving it to Parliament building and had invited several other 'organisations' that are not known to be doing any work on human rights in Zimbabwe. It was also not lost on the participating CSOs that the venue proposed by the permanent secretary has been the scene of violence and disturbances in the past when issues around human rights were discussed. In the recent past, members of parliament, journalists, human rights defenders and members of the public have been beaten up and manhandled by hired thugs in full view of the disinterested police. To date, no action has been taken to prosecute the known and identified perpetrators. It is therefore mind-boggling that the permanent secretary has chosen to have a meeting of this nature at such a venue with its history.
It should be pointed out, at this juncture that the visit by the UN High Commissioner is meant to be a broad-based, open and transparent process that enables the UN High Commissioner to independently and objectively assess and better understand the human rights situation on the ground and to thereafter make recommendations to all relevant actors that promote the full enjoyment of human rights for all.
The visit is not meant to be a stage-managed process where state representatives take the UN High Commissioner through a guided tour to meet people who give a glorified and sugar-coated account of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. It is an opportunity for self-introspection by everyone - including and especially the Government of Zimbabwe, which bears the primary responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights in this country - something they very often choose to ignore. In this vein the government ought to allow the UN High Commissioner to meet diverse groups of people who have an interest in issues of human rights, if the process is to have credibility and be beneficial to the generality of the citizens of Zimbabwe. Minister Chinamasa is already on record saying the government has nothing to hide - so why are they choosing to suppress interaction between Madam Pillay and credible and trusted CSOs who have been working on the ground for decades?
We today are here to make it clear that genuine CSOs will not be commandeered by government to a stage-managed civil society meeting with the High Commissioner which is organised by the government; neither will we legitimise a fraudulent exercise meant to give the UN human rights chief a superficial picture of our country's human rights situation. We also wonder why government will not allow us a mere one hour and thirty minutes with the High Commissioner during a programme that is set to continue for 5 days, and especially when it does not know what we are going to say. Surely, government can and is free to organise its own meetings with its preferred "CSOs" and leave us to execute our mandate independently!
For the record CSOs will convene tomorrow at 11:30 am at the original venue as communicated to the organisations concerned, in anticipation of the arrival of the UN Human Rights Commissioner for a fruitful discussion - one which will definitely not occur at Senate Chambers in Parliament.
Artists for Democracy in Zimbabwe Trust
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe
Combined Harare Residents Association
Commercial Farmers Union
Counselling Services Unit
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe
General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe
Law Society of Zimbabwe
Matabeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe
National Association of Non Governmental Organisations
National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped
National Constitutional Assembly
National Youth Development Trust
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe
Research and Advocacy Unit
Student Solidarity Trust
Women and Law In Southern Africa
Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights
Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
Zimbabwe Council of Churches
Zimbabwe Election Support Network
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
Zimbabwe Peace Project
Zimbabwe United Residents Trust