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Zimbabwe: Reform Justice System

Neighbors Should Withhold Development Aid Until Clear Steps are Taken to Punish Abuses

(Johannesburg) - Zimbabwe's new inclusive government should carry out comprehensive justice reforms without delay to ensure accountability for past abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The organization noted that the one-year anniversary is approaching for the controversial elections, on March 29, 2008, that ultimately resulted in the new government.

On March 30, leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) are to meet to consider an economic recovery aid package for Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch called on SADC members to take the opportunity to press Zimbabwe's government to demonstrate its commitment to human rights reforms before SADC releases non-humanitarian development aid.

"The government of Zimbabwe should take clear action toward restoring the rule of law and respect for human rights before the international community releases longer-term development aid," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "There is no excuse for further delay."

In the aftermath of the general elections, President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, Zimbabwe National African Union (ZANU-PF), carried out a campaign of violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in which almost 200 MDC activists were killed, some 5,000 were tortured, and more than 10,000 required medical treatment for injuries.

Since signing a power-sharing agreement on September 15, Zimbabwe's leaders have not demonstrated the political will to carry out necessary human rights reforms and restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

Not one perpetrator of the abuses - whether police, military, war veteran or ZANU-PF official - has been held to account. The authorities have not provided victims of abuses with effective remedies, as required by international law, including judicial redress and other forms of reparation.

"Zimbabwe's political situation remains precarious, but unless the new power-sharing government promptly brings perpetrators of abuses to account and makes clear that no further abuses will be tolerated, the country risks sliding back to possibly even greater political turmoil," said Gagnon.

Human Rights Watch urged SADC leaders to press the Zimbabwe authorities to set a specific timeline for tangible progress on key human rights reforms. Actions that can be undertaken immediately and that will help demonstrate commitment to justice and human rights include:

  • Release the photojournalist Shadrek Andreson Manyere; Chris Dhlamini, the MDC security chief; Ghandi Mudzingwa, former aide to MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai; and the remaining three political detainees;
  • Disclose the whereabouts of seven other "disappeared" persons whose whereabouts to date remain unknown: Gwenzi Kahiya, Ephraim Mabeka, Lovemore Machokoto, Charles Muza, Edmore Vangirayi, Graham Matehwa, and Peter Munyanyi;
  • Investigate political violence and human rights abuses that followed the 2008 elections and prosecute perpetrators of those abuses;
  • Ensure access to appropriate judicial remedies to victims of abuses and respect victims' rights to truth, justice, and reparation;
  • Reform media laws to ensure media freedom and access to Zimbabwe for local and foreign journalists and media organizations;
  • Consult with a broad section of the population on how to reorganize the criminal justice system to meet internationally recognized human rights standards.

Human Rights Watch also urged the transitional government of national unity in Zimbabwe to create the necessary conditions to hold internationally recognized free and fair elections within 24 months.

"SADC leaders should ensure that Zimbabwe has taken concrete and verifiable steps on justice and accountability reforms before they adopt an economic recovery aid package for the country," Gagnon said. "Human rights reform and rule of law are essential for economic recovery and restoration of investor confidence."

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