TOP human rights watchdogs have urged the government to urgently ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) as a show of political will to comprehensively addressing enforced disappearances, amid indications of a sharp deterioration in the protection of crucial socio-economic rights.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s promises to break with the past and chart a new path for Zimbabwe after the ouster of long-time leader Robert Mugabe are ringing hollow as the southern African nation has further slid into an authoritarian state.
The government is also desperate to clear its tainted human rights record which has isolated it from the family of nations in recent decades.
However, key watchdogs the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (The Forum) and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) say the government is continuing to clamp down on crucial human rights at an alarming rate.
“Despite Zimbabwe having signed and ratified the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR), continued human rights violations have remained a cause of concern.
The National Budget statement presented on 30 November 2023 by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion Mthuli Ncube, proposes measures that will further impoverish the majority of the citizens through an insensitive tax regime,” said The Forum in its statement to mark International Human Rights Day celebrated on 10 December.
“The proposed budget further increases the poverty gap, perpetuating societal inequalities that negatively impact social cohesion and nation-building. The government has perennially failed to put in place a viable safety net that effectively promotes an inclusive state of the economy for all as defined in Article 22 of the UDHR.”
The Forum also noted a sharp decline in the right to healthcare, which has been attributed to the government’s failure to abide by the Abuja Declaration, which recommends that the government sets aside at least 15% of the national budget for the health sector.
The health sector has been allocated 10.8% of the allocations for 2024, a decline from 11.2% allocated this year.
“Presently, the country is plagued by a cholera outbreak that began on 12 February 2023. As of November 2023, Zimbabwe has recorded 6 685 suspected cholera cases and 136 deaths. The ongoing pandemic lays bare a disruptive healthcare system where primary healthcare is non-existent and a struggling sector that is generally overwhelmed and critically under-resourced. This situation is in sharp contrast with what is espoused in Article 35 of the UDHR,” the Forum said.
The Forum lamented a worsening political situation which has seen the disappearance and killing of opposition members ahead of the August general elections and December by-elections.
“The country has plunged into chaos owing to the wave of political intolerance that has manifested in abductions/enforced disappearances of dissenting voices in the post-election phase and closure of the civic space that has curtailed active demand of civil and political rights,” reads the statement.
“The recent abductions and subsequent torture of former opposition party Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) member of Parliament for Tafara, James Chidhakwa and Takudzwa Ngadziore and worriedly the recent abduction and extrajudicial killing of Bishop Tapfumaneyi Masaya,” said the Forum.
“The persecution of political prisoners including Job Sikhala, who remains in pre-trial detention, is also an indicator of the state’s retribution against perceived dissenting voices. A political and constitutional crisis emanating from the recalls of elected opposition members of Parliament, senators and councillors points to the deterioration of the social contract, democratic principles and constitutionalism.”
The Forum urged the government to act immediately to restore public faith in the judiciary and the Zimbabwe criminal justice system by facilitating the immediate release of political prisoners.
While Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) leader Jacob Ngarivhume was last week acquitted of any wrongdoing after being sentenced in May for leading and organising the 31 July 2020 protests, Sikhala has remained in prison.
“The principles of human rights enshrined in the UDHR constitute the international human rights customary law, from which are the foundations for political and socio-economic stability and sustainable democracy,” reads the statement.
“The Forum urges the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure the effective recognition and observance of fundamental freedoms and human rights guaranteed under the UDHR by engendering a human rights-based, people-centric approach to its socio-economic policies to minimise inequalities.”
“Constituting the Independent Complaints Mechanism Commission and operationalising the Act to provide an effective platform for redress to victims of human rights violations at the hands of security sector officials.”
The ZLHR said human rights are under attack, amid indications of a serious decline in democratic processes.
“In Zimbabwe, the promise of the UDHR of dignity and equality in rights is under a sustained assault. Human rights violations by key state actors and non-state actors remain a cause of concern,” ZLHR said in its statement.
“Even in a year in which the world is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, human rights defenders in Zimbabwe continue to be subjected to unprecedented violations including abductions, enforced disappearances, torture, arrests, detentions, persecutions and all sorts of persecution, internal displacement and enactment of repressive laws.”
“Democratic recession is manifesting itself in disenfranchisement, voter suppression and illegal recalls done through abuse of parliamentary legal processes and privileges and staging sham elections which fall short of regional and international standards.”