Human rights developments in Zimbabwe in 2012 were dominated by the drafting of a new constitution and the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed in 2008, which created the power-sharing coalition between the former ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) following the 2008 elections. There has been little progress in implementing key aspects of the GPA, notably the need for institutional and legal reforms, ending political violence, and ensuring accountability for past human rights abuses.
The Global Political Agreement and the Constitution
More than four years after ZANU-PF and the MDC signed the GPA, few of the reforms outlined in the agreement have been fully implemented. Reforms needed to improve the human rights environment and to create conditions for democratic elections include: a parliament-led process to write a new constitution; police training; prioritizing a legislative agendato enshrine the agreement’s provisions; renouncing the use of violence; and ensuring that the government fully and impartially enforces domestic laws in bringing all perpetrators of politically motivated violence to justice. The GPA also guarantees free political activity whereby all political parties are able to propagate their views and canvass for support, free of harassment and intimidation, and calls for respect for the rule of law. It also commits the unity government to ensure the full implementation and realization of the rights to freedom of association and assembly, and the promotion of freedom of expression and communication.
After 36 months of discussions, the Constitutional Select Committee of Parliament produced a final draft of the constitution on July 18, 2012. ZANU-PF and the MDC engaged in long debates over key provisions. The MDC endorsed the final draft, but ZANU-PF called for further amendments, including questioning limits to presidential powers and references to devolution. After some pressure from the regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), ZANU-PF backed down and a stakeholder’s conference to discuss the constitution was held from October 21 to October 23. A date for a referendum on the new constitution has yet to be set and elections must be held by June 2013, as prescribed by the GPA.
While legislation to establish an independent and credible human rights commission and electoral commission has been passed, there are significant concerns with the two commissions. The law establishing the human rights commission states that it can only investigate alleged human rights abuses since the formation of the power-sharing government in February 2009. This prevents the commission from investigating other serious crimes, including election-related violence in 2002, 2005 and 2008; the massacre of an estimated 20,000 people in Matabeleland North and South in the 1980s, as well as the government-led mass demolitions of homes and business structures, and evictions of several thousand people from their homes in 2005.
Concerns persist over the composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, many of whose members are regarded as highly partisan supporters of ZANU-PF.
Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly
The power-sharing government has either failed to amend or come to agreement on amending repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which severely curtail basic rights through vague defamation clauses and draconian penalties. The failure to amend or repeal these laws, and to develop mechanisms to address the partisan conduct of the police, limits the rights to freedom of association and assembly ahead of and during the coming elections.
Provisions in AIPPA and POSA that provide criminal penalties for defamation, undermining the authority of, or insulting the president, have routinely been used against journalists and human rights defenders. ZANU-PF has repeatedly blocked attempts by the MDC to amend POSA and bring it in line with commitments in the GPA. Police often deliberately interpret provisions of POSA to ban lawful public meetings and gatherings. Prosecutors have often used section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act against opposition and civil society activists to overturn judicial rulings granting bail and extend detention by seven days.
Activists continue to be wrongly prosecuted and charged under these laws. On March 19, 2012, six civil society activists, arrested in 2011 for watching a video of Arab Spring protests, were convicted under section 188 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) of conspiracy to commit violence. On March 21, a Harare magistrate gave the activists two-year suspended sentences, US$500 fines, and 420 hours of community service. Lawyers representing the activists appealed the verdict at the Harare High Court, and called for an investigation into allegations by the activists that police and security agents tortured them in efforts to extract confessions that they were planning an uprising against the government.