African Union Should Act to Stop Violence, Enable Democratic Reforms
(Johannesburg) - The African Union should not endorse Zimbabwe’s sham presidential runoff election on June 27, Human Rights Watch said today. African Union leaders should intervene to bring an immediate end to massive state-sponsored human rights abuses and enable democratic reform.
In the past few days, government repression and violence throughout Zimbabwe has intensified. Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has increased its violent attacks on members and supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Continuing attacks as well as increasing restrictions on campaigning have forced the MDC to withdraw from the elections. ZANU-PF has stated it will go ahead with the elections.
“The runoff was a farce from the beginning,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “African leaders should declare it null and void and refuse to recognize Robert Mugabe’s illegitimate presidency.”
Human Rights Watch urged the African Union (AU) to urgently address the crisis in Zimbabwe now and at its annual summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on June 30. Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to intervene by increasing political pressure on the Zimbabwean government to end the violence and by deploying AU monitors throughout the country to report on human rights abuses.
Human Rights Watch also called on African Union leaders to assist in the formation of an interim government prior to holding elections at a later date that meet international standards. Those responsible for politically motivated violence and other abuses before and after the election period should not be included in any transitional authority or interim government. AU leaders should call for an international commission of inquiry to hold the perpetrators of serious abuses to account. Human Rights Watch urged AU leaders to consider suspending Zimbabwe from the African Union if the Zimbabwean government does not cooperate with these efforts.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the UN Security Council’s statement on June 23 condemning the violence in Zimbabwe and concluding that a free and fair runoff this week would be impossible. Previously, South Africa had played a key role blocking discussion of Zimbabwe at the council by arguing that the crisis was not a matter of international peace and security. Human Rights Watch urged continued Security Council engagement, particularly to work with African regional bodies to press the Mugabe government to end the violence.
“The Security Council’s statement is an important first step, but only a first step,” said Gagnon. “Concerted international pressure is needed to turn global concern into regional action.”
In recent days, ZANU-PF supporters have gone on a rampage in the capital Harare, beating and forcing people in the suburbs to attend all-night meetings at ZANU-PF camps and bases established around the city. ZANU-PF supporters have established unofficial roadblocks across the city and are patrolling the streets armed with iron bars and sticks.
In one incident on June 20 in Harare, eight ZANU-PF supporters armed with knives intercepted a commuter bus carrying 40 passengers at an unofficial roadblock and diverted the bus to a ZANU-PF base in Epworth, a Harare suburb. One eyewitness told Human Rights Watch that the ZANU-PF supporters forced the passengers off the bus, brutally beat them with sticks and batons, and forced them to chant and recite ZANU-PF slogans throughout the night. The passengers were only released on the morning of June 21. The eyewitness told Human Rights Watch:
“The youth leader at the base ordered us to stand in a single file and take turns to stand before the crowd to take ‘ZANU-PF tests’ where we were asked difficult questions and slogans of ZANU-PF. If one failed to properly decode a slogan, then the beating would begin. I was beaten severely on the buttocks for more than 20 minutes using batons. The process went on until all the 40 people who were on the bus were beaten, and while the beating was going on, more people were being brought to the base. We endured severe beatings throughout the night. I was finally released on Saturday [June 21] at around 9 a.m. after the youth leader said that he was satisfied that I had mastered ZANU-PF slogans. I was released together with 30 other people. The rest of the people were told that they had to continue singing and reciting slogans the whole day. I sustained a broken right hand and deep wounds on the buttocks.”
Other eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that such incidents take place on a daily basis.
The electoral process for the June 27 presidential runoff has been significantly flawed and does not meet the Southern African Development Community (SADC) benchmarks for free and fair elections. Since general elections on March 29, Human Rights Watch has documented widespread violence by ZANU-PF and state security forces across the country against the MDC and its perceived supporters. The Zimbabwean authorities have arrested scores of MDC supporters and members, and prevented MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai from campaigning around the country. The authorities have also blocked the MDC’s access to the state media.
The AU’s African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance calls on states to reaffirm their commitment to “regularly holding transparent, free and fair elections” in accordance with the union’s Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections. The charter also provides that where there is an “unconstitutional change of government” by illegally gaining or maintaining power, AU member states should consider imposing suspension from the African Union and other sanctions on those responsible.
Mugabe has repeatedly stated his intentions not to abide by the election outcome and to resort to unconstitutional means, including “going to war,” to remain in power. During a ZANU-PF campaign rally on June 14, Mugabe stated, “We shed a lot of blood for this country. We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ball point pen fight with a gun?”
“In view of Mugabe’s statements that he will stay in power by any means, African leaders should tell Mugabe that they will not recognize his presidency,” said Gagnon. “They should also be putting together a set of sanctions.”