HUMAN rights abuses escalated in 2022, with an unprecedented increase in repression, politically motivated violence and a general decline in the rule of law, further worsening Zimbabwe’s already battered human rights record, a report has shown.
Findings by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (The Forum) in its 2022 State of Human Rights Report show that human rights violations increased in 2022 ahead of the general elections, with a record 1 996 infractions being documented by the organisation alone.
While the figure was slightly higher, it did not include extrajudicial killings that saw at least one person being killed at an opposition campaign rally.
The report also highlighted weaponisation of the law against opponents as a major constrictor of the civic space.
“Legislation such as the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, gazetted in November 2021, informed much of what characterised the civil society organisations’ operating space in 2022,” reads the report.
“Gazetted ostensibly to counter terrorism and prohibit political lobbying from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provisions of the Bill clearly showed the intention to curtail civic space. An amended version of the Bill presented in June 2022 significantly tightened the initial legislation disregarding civil society’s concerns and imposed stricter and more repressive clauses. This emasculation of civil society and systematic attempts at closing the civic space was a highlight through the period under review.”
The Forum also flagged the Cyber and Data Protection Act passed in 2021 for being weaponised against citizens’ rights, especially human rights defenders and civil society groups, who are key in upholding human rights.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police was in perennial investigative mode due to large amount of political violence, abductions, torture, arbitrary arrests and persecution of opposition political actors and human rights defenders. The Act became a new weapon used to infringe upon citizens’ rights, especially human rights defenders and civil society groups,” reads the report.
“The year saw the arrest of journalists, with some charged with transmitting falsehoods. Such arrests point to a severe threat to the freedom of the media and freedom of expression and access to information in the public interest as provided for in the constitution.”
The Forum said the judicial system has been marred with inconsistencies, which have resulted in accusations of selective application of the law, amid evidence of banning of opposition rallies and political gatherings by the police.
“The criminal justice system was also seen to be marred with inconsistencies in terms of how it treated people from different political parties with Zanu PF-linked persons such as the then Gokwe-Nembudziya member of Parliament Justice Mayor Wadyajena being granted bail in a corruption matter whilst opposition legislator Job Sikhala being denied bail and languished in prison beyond 31 December 2022, being the date of this report,” the Forum said.
“Sikhala had been arrested alongside fellow opposition legislator Godfrey Sithole and some 16 residents from Nyatsime who spent over 150 days in prison before bail was granted to all except Sikhala. In the period under review, a case of forced evictions in the Mutoko area emerged, involving a Chinese mining company that wanted to forcibly evict locals in January 2022 in order to proceed with their mining venture.”
The report has also highlighted the squalid living conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons, which are overcrowded and life-threatening.
As of 29 August 2022, statistics revealed that there were 22 114 prisoners, against an official holding capacity of 17 000 inmates.
“Despite efforts by some civil society or ganisations for the government to decongest prisons in the Covid-19 era, the prisons have remained rehabilitation centres riddled with harsh and life-threatening conditions due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of water, lice infestations, shortage of blankets in the cold season and lack of access to personal hygiene products, as well as inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care,” reads the report.
The Forum also put Zimbabwe’s food security claims under scrutiny, amid indications that the country was importing maize from its neighbours.
“Despite reports by the government that Pfumvudza was a great success, the Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe announced on May 26 2022 that Zimbabwe would import white maize from Zambia and Malawi as the country faced a reduced harvest blamed on erratic rainfall,” reads the report.
“This pointed to a food insecurity crisis which has been the norm since the turn of the century following the fast-track land restructuring programme spearheaded by the then Mugabe-led regime and characterised by violent attacks on white-owned commercial farms.”