Madam chairperson, distinguished commissioners, ladies and gentlemen,

Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned by the continued violation of human rights in Zimbabwe, and the almost absolute impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators.

Whilst considering the state report of Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch would like to bring to the attention of the commission the fact that violent repression of civil society activists, opposition members and supporters and those perceived to be supporters of the opposition by state authorities including the police and state security agents in Zimbabwe continues to escalate.

Over the past year, the government has reacted to peaceful protests against its policies on social, economic, and human rights conditions in the country by intensifying its efforts to intimidate, silence and punish those who expose abuses and exercise their basic rights.

Since the beginning of the year, the police have arbitrarily arrested hundreds of civil society activists and opposition members and supporters during routine meetings or peaceful protests, often with excessive force, and in some cases subjected those in custody to severe beatings that amounted to torture, and other mistreatment. The government has taken no clear action to halt the rising incidence of torture and ill-treatement of activists while in the custody of police or the intelligence services.

The arrest and severe beating of over 50 opposition leaders and civil society activists by police and state security officers on March 11 marked a new low in Zimbabwe’s seven-year political crisis. It ignited a new government campaign of violence and repression against members of the opposition and civil society – and increasingly ordinary citizens – in the capital Harare and elsewhere throughout the country. Police used disproportionate and lethal force against unarmed activists resulting in the death of at least one activist, Gift Tandare, and serious injuries to several others.

Recent statements by senior government officials including the president appear to condone acts of torture and other serious human rights violations and highlight the governments blatant disregard for the basic human rights of its citizens that authorities at all levels have shown during Zimbabwe’s political crisis. President Mugabe’s statements endorsing abusive law enforcement measures can but contribute to entrenching the culture of impunity that already exists in Zimbabwe.

The authorities in Zimbabwe rarely investigate allegations of torture and other mistreatment. None of the allegations of violence, torture and mistreatment documented by Human Rights Watch in the past year have been investigated or the perpetrators brought to justice.

Madam chairperson, members of the commission, those who try to expose and seek legal redress for such abuses, in particular human rights lawyers, are themselves subjected to intimidation, harassment, arrest and beatings by the police and intelligence officers.

Despite widespread international condemnation and calls for an end to the abuses – the beatings, arbitrary arrests and abductions of opposition members and supporters, civil society activists, and the repression of ordinary Zimbabweans – continue unabated. The human rights violations that have occurred in Zimbabwe in particular over the past three months – and the complete lack of accountability of those responsible for these violations – is of special concern given the longstanding and pervasive culture of impunity in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean government has legal obligations under several international and human rights treaties, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Among the rights Zimbabwe has an obligation to uphold are the right to life, and the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. In addition, the government of Zimbabwe has an obligation to respect the rights of human rights defenders to do their work in the promotion of human rights as articulated in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Madam chairperson, members of the commission, Human Rights Watch urges the commission in particular the Special Rapporter on the rights of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapportuer on the right to Freedom of Expression and the Working Group on Torture to request standing invitations from the government of Zimbabwe to visit the country on fact finding missions to investigate the violations of human rights currently taking place in Zimbabwe, and to then recommend appropriate remedial actions.

Human Rights Watch would finally like to call upon the African Commission to call on the government of Zimbabwe to desist from harassing and intimidating human rights practioners who are engaged in human rights work; more specifically that the government of Zimbabwe should undertake to guarantee the safety of all NGOs that enjoy observer status with the commision and who participate in the processes of the commission.

I thank you.