Human Rights Watch will give its highest recognition to Arnold Tsunga, a courageous Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and activist whose work has highlighted the deteriorating state of human rights in Zimbabwe, on November 2.
Tsunga is the executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a leading human rights organization that provides legal representation to victims of human rights abuses, including human rights defenders who are often arrested and detained in Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch has worked closely with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Tsunga in documenting human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and bringing them to the attention of the international community.
“Arnold Tsunga provides a voice to those silenced by repression in Zimbabwe,” said Tiseke Kasambala, researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “He has shown extraordinary courage and commitment to human rights in the face of severe persecution by the government of Zimbabwe.”
A high-profile defender of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, Tsunga has often spoken out against government abuses at great personal risk. He has been the victim of numerous attacks, arrests and death threats.
In January 2006, Tsunga and five others were arrested and charged with operating a broadcasting service without a license, even though the law under which they were charged did not apply in their case. The charges which were dismissed by the High Court on September 25, 2006, appeared to be yet another attempt by the government to intimidate and harass Tsunga and his colleagues. Tsunga has also been the subject of several vitriolic verbal attacks in the state-run media.
In March 2002, Tsunga was seized at gunpoint by soldiers, detained for several hours and then assaulted in front of onlookers. In September of the same year, he was unlawfully detained and threatened with a gun when he visited a police station in the town of Chimanimani to represent a client who had been abducted by government intelligence officers.
In the past six years, the government of Zimbabwe has increasingly turned to repressive and, at times, violent means to suppress criticism from the opposition and civil society. Independent media outlets have been closed down and opposition political parties have been stifled. Police and other state-sponsored agents routinely intimidate, attack and torture government critics, including members of civil society organizations, human rights lawyers, journalists and trade unionists. At the same time, the police have used repressive laws to silence critical or dissenting voices within civil society. Human rights abuses continue to take place with impunity; few perpetrators are brought to justice
The continuing erosion of human rights in Zimbabwe was highlighted in 2005 by the government’s brutal campaign of mass evictions and demolitions which began in May, and, which, according to the United Nations, deprived 700,000 men, women and children throughout the country of their homes, their livelihoods, or both.
Tsunga and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have worked tirelessly to get justice for the victims of the evictions in the domestic courts and at other regional proceedings.
On December 5, 2005, Human Rights Watch and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, together with four other local and international organizations, successfully pressed for an unprecedented resolution on Zimbabwe at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The resolution – the first to be released by the commission on Zimbabwe – expressed its concern over the deterioration of human rights in the country, and alarm at the violations of rights resulting from the evictions.
“Through their fearless defense of human rights, Arnold Tsunga and his colleagues at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights bring hope for justice to countless victims of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe,” said Kasambala.