HUMAN rights watchdogs in Zimbabwe have raised a red flag over abuses during the post-election period, including abductions, arbitrary arrests and torture of opposition activists.
This has been exacerbated by the lack of laws on forced disappearances.
The abductions come after Zimbabwe held disputed elections condemned by local and international election observers as neitherfree, fairnorcredible.
The sham elections have been rejected by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), which has for many years maintained a soft stance towards Zimbabwe’s shambolic polls.
This week, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (The Forum) expressed outrage over the abduction and torture of members of the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), Womberaishe Nhende and Sanele Mkhuhlane on 2 September 2023.
Reports say three off-road vehicles stormed Nhende’s home and forced him and Mkhuhlane into one of the vehicles. It is further alleged that the duo was assaulted and tortured before being injected with an unknown substance and later dumped in Mapinga (about 73km from Harare).
Human rights lawyers Douglas Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), and legal representatives of Nhende and Mkhuhlane were arrested in the aftermath of the abductions.
The human rights lawyers were then charged with obstructing and defeating the course of justice as defined by section 184 (1) (e) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
This has been criticised by human rights watchdogs under the banner of The Forum.
“It is the position of The Forum that lawyers have the right to protect the dignity of their clients, as guaranteed under section 51 of the constitution,” read the statement by The Forum titled Post-Election Attacks Against Civilians and Human Rights Defenders.
“In particular, the interviewing of victims of abduction and torture whilst in hospital has become somewhat the modus operandi of Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) as this is reminiscent of the case of the honourable member of Parliament for Harare West Joana Mamombe who was abducted but was subsequently arrested and faced trial with the duo of Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova.”
Added The Forum: “Furthermore, it is not a criminal offence to provide legal representation to anyone who needs it as the right to legal representation is guaranteed in section 69 (1) of the constitution. The Forum reiterates that the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers Article 18 espouse that a lawyer should not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as they discharge their functions.”
The abductions have added to cases received by The Forum during the electoral period involving Givemore Chari in Maramba-Pfungwe constituency in Mashonaland East and Nelson Mukwenha in Highfield, Harare.
Legal grouping Veritas said the forced disappearances have been worsened by lack of laws criminalising enforced disappearances.
“Enforced disappearance is a violent act that demonstrates a blatant disregard of the constitution. There is no single Zimbabwean law that criminalises enforced disappearance as such, but it violates a number of constitutional rights in our constitution’s Declaration of Rights; indeed, no other crime cuts across the Declaration of Rights as much as this one,” Veritas said in an analysis.
“The fundamental rights that are affected by enforced disappearances include the rights to personal liberty, human dignity, personal security and, depending on the facts of the particular case, life, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to a fair hearing.”
Veritas added: “In the absence of a specific crime of enforced disappearance, prosecutions could be brought for existing crimes such as kidnapping, assault etc. — were it not for the problems posed by the anonymity and impunity enjoyed by most perpetrators.”
The legal grouping said the situation has also been worsened by failure by the country to ratify international conventions on enforced disappearance.
“Zimbabwe has neither signed nor acceded to the Convention — despite recommendations that it should do so from member States of the United Nations during successive reviews of the country’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews,” said Veritas.
“The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance came into force in 2010. It treats as victims not only those that have been ‘disappeared’ but also their families and communities because they have to deal with the after-effects of losing someone and not having closure.
The convention further makes enforced disappearance an international crime. Under certain circumstances, enforced disappearance also qualifies as a crime against humanity, and falls under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”