The American Bar Association’s (ABA) Centre for Human Rights has released a damning report highlighting a consistent pattern of criminalisation of trade union activism in Zimbabwe as well as a clampdown on labour rights by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
The ABA also noted that the Harare administration has continued with systematic targeting of trade union officials through significant violence, unjustified detentions, routine use of brute force by police and army despite recommendations in 2009 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which urged the Zimbabwean authorities to stop such a trend.
The ABA’s report is titled Pre-Trial Observation: Zimbabwe versus Obert Masaraure.
Masaraure is the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president who faces a litany of charges emanating from his work as a trade unionist.
The ABA in its latest report expressed concerns that Mnangagwa’s administration which took over in 2017 after a millitary coup that toppled long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, has not stopped the crackdown on trade unionists despite recommendations for it to do so by the ILO which carried out an investigation in 2009.
Part of the ABA’s latest report reads: “The ILO inquiry has not prevented the apparent continued targeting of trade union leaders in Zimbabwe. In November 2018, prominent members of the ZCTU faced charges of disruption of public order under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.”
“In January 2019, ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo was arrested on the charge of subverting a constitutionally elected government in relation to anti-government protests. Human Rights Watch reported that ‘security forces rounded up and detained hundreds of people, many of whom were brought before the courts on charges of public violence and criminal nuisance, most of whom remain in detention’.”
“During their prolonged trial, ZCTU members were called to appear before judges no less than 19 times. All charges were eventually dropped in 2020, notably following international pressure.”
The report also zeroed in on the case of Masaraure.
“Obert Masaraure is a trade union leader whose activism was spurred on by the increasingly dire situation of rural teachers in Zimbabwe. The number of cases he faces, the nature of the courts in which they are considered, and the seemingly unsubstantiated delays in bringing these cases to conclusion all point to the potential targeting of Mr Masaraure based on his activities, rather than his criminal culpability.
“In particular, M Masaraure’s rights under the Zimbabwe Constitution and the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] appear to have been violated, including the right to a timely trial, freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to form a trade union,” reads part of the report.
Masaraure was arrested on 8 July 2022 on a charge of public incitement to violence or defeating or obstructing the course of justice, days after having been released on bail on the murder charge of the organisation’s member Roy Isa who jumped to his death from the third floor of a Harare hotel in 2016 according to an earlier enquiry.
The reason for Masaraure’s arrest on public incitement was authoring a statement to encourage the public to support the case of Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe colleague Robson Chere, who was also charged in the alleged murder of Roy Issa. Both Chere and Masaraure deny the charges and describe them as trumped up.
The ABA in its report also noted that while the regime is mantaining a crackdown on trade unionists, the activists have been resilient and steadfast in their activities.
“Despite the systematic targeting of trade unions and their members, trade union activity continues in Zimbabwe. For example, in response to the effect Covid-19 had on an already struggling economy, strikes took place by many professionals, including teachers, doctors, and nurses. It was in this context that the Artuz movement emerged in protest to the tremendous harm to the daily lives of teachers,” reads the report.
The ABA recommended that “the appropriate Zimbabwean authorities immediately review and drop any charges Mr Masaraure faces that are not substantiated . . . Carry out a full, independent, and transparent review of the relevant authorities’ targeting of trade union leaders, as also requested by the ILO’s Committee on Experts on Application of Conventions and Recommendations.
Further recommendations: “Ensure that Mr Masaraure and his Artuz colleagues are allowed to carry out their lawful activities without further harassment… Ensure that all those within Zimbabwe’s jurisdiction are allowed to fully participate in trade union and labour rights activities without fear of repercussion…Implement a series of changes that promote the rights discussed in this report; and Adhere to the recommendations made in the ILO’s latest report.”
In an interview with The NewsHawks, Masaraure said the findings of the ABA are spot-on.
“The American Bar Association has done a splendid job to expose the deployment of the judiciary to persecute dissenting voices. We appreciate the monitoring process which helps to amplify our call for the reform of the judiciary. Citizens have lost faith in Zimbabwe’s judiciary and we demand urgent reforms. The four charges I face in the courts today are all based on some intention to silence me. I have always acted within the confines of the law and will always defend the labour rights for workers and tirelessly push for a democratic Zimbabwe.
“The government of Emmerson Mnangagwa has invested in strangling Trade Unions and denying workers basic rights. We are aware of huge investments made towards attempting to capture the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Those trade unionists like myself, who refused co-option, have met a ruthless stick aimed at instilling fear and silence labour voices.
“Basic rights, including the right to job action, the right to collective bargaining and even the right to a living wage have been suspended. In February 2022, thousands of teachers were suspended for engaging in a lawful job action. In January 2022, 16 teachers were arrested for raising placards demanding a living wage. The list is endless,” he said.