Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

C.c.
Mr. Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on Torture

Mr. El Hadji Malick SOW
Working Group against Arbitrary Detention

Ref. Urgent Appeal regarding the raid to the office of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and prosecution of Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Mhambi

Dear Mrs. Sekaggya,

We are writing to you on behalf of ARC-International, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Just Associates, and Protection International, to request that you investigate the recent raid on the office of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and the prosecution of staff member Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Mhambi, a visitor in the office at the time of the raid.

GALZ is the leading organization working for the protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Zimbabwe. Since it's creation in 1990, it has served the needs and interests of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe and pushed for social tolerance sex and gender minorities and the repeal of discriminatory and homo and transphobic legislation.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to investigate the allegations that authorities in Zimbabwe acted in violation of the fundamental rights of GALZ and those arrested at its offices and that you raise your concerns with the Zimbabwean government. We hope that you can both help protect the basic rights of the GALZ members, and also help to ensure that the right to defend human rights in Zimbabwe are respected and do not fall victim to discrimination. We also request that you enter into a dialogue with other UN Special Procedures to investigate the allegations of torture and degrading treatment while the two individuals were held in custody.

Facts

On the night of Friday, May 21, 2010, police, allegedly lead by Chief Superintendent Peter Magwenzi and Detective Inspector Chibvuma, raided the offices of GALZ in Milton Park, Harare. The police had a warrant to search for "dangerous drugs and pornographic material" citing contravention of Section 157 (1) of the Criminal Code (Codification and Reform Act), Chapter 9:23 and Section 32 (1) of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act Chapter 10:04. That night police detained two of GALZ staff members, Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Mhambi. Police took Chademana and Mhambi to the Harare Central Police Station, where they detained and charged them under section 157 of the Criminal Code.

On Sunday, May 23, the police returned to GALZ offices. They tried to enter the office, but the guard did not have keys and did not let them in. According to GALZ, on Monday, May 24, the police took the two detainees back to the GALZ office for a further search, while the lawyers waited in the police station to see their clients, while being assured by the investigating officer that the detainees were in their cells. On May 24, police added another charge against Chademana and Mhambi, stating that they had allegedly violated section 33 of the Criminal Code (Codification and Reform Act), "undermining authority of or insulting [the] President."

On May 26, police went to the house of the acting director of GALZ, Chesterfield Samba, and confiscated Samba's birth certificate, as well as magazines, books, and his business cards.

On May 27, the magistrate court released Chademana and Mhambi on bail. The trial date is set for June 10, 2010. The court confiscated the detainees' passports and they have to report to police headquarters twice a week. According to other members of GALZ in Harare, the police sent a massage to the other members of GALZ asking them to report to the police, reportedly, to appear as "witnesses" in Chademana and Mhambi's case.

According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which is providing legal assistance to GALZ staff, "Mhambi alleged that police used empty soft drinks bottles to assault him on his knees and forced him to ‘sit' in a position without a chair or any other tool for a long period. Chademana said the police also forced her to undertake the same action for a long period. Both detainees allege that they were subjected to assaults all over their bodies."

Background and Context

GALZ has been attacked by the Zimbabwe government in the past. In 1995 GALZ was denied permission to participate in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. In May 1998, the state-controlled Sunday Mail published a front-page article accusing GALZ of running a brothel from its office premises, as well as of screening pornographic videos. Later the same paper accused GALZ of holding "rowdy parties" featuring "public indecency."

Speaking at a ceremony marking International Women's Day earlier this year, President Robert Mugabe said, "[t]hose who engage in homosexual behaviour are just crazy." In the past, Mugabe has compared homosexuals to pigs and dogs and has stated that homosexuality "degrades human dignity."

The situation of GALZ should also be understood in the recent attacks against organizations working with individuals known or perceived to be homosexual or transgender, as well against such individuals in several parts of Africa. The existence of discriminatory laws, such as those that criminalize consensual sexual conduct among adults and penalize acts of "gross indecency," in 34 African countries greatly hinder the realization of the fundamental human rights enshrined in national constitutions as well as in the African Charter on Human and People's Rights. Persecution of organizations and individuals by the state under these laws, as well as attacks by non-state actors on the grounds of people's sexual orientation and/or gender identity that go unpunished, severely impede the advancement of human rights and civil liberties. They also pose an enormous risk to public health, as members of marginalized groups such as men who have sex with men and sex workers are driven underground and away from HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention campaigns.

The last two years alone have seen a range of persecutions of and discrimination against organizations and individual on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Individuals have been arrested in a range of countries, including Malawi, Senegal, Uganda, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe, simply on suspicion of being homosexual; homophobic statements by state leaders in countries such as South Africa, the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Mali, and Zambia further marginalize already vulnerable populations; religious leaders in several countries, including Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, and Rwanda, make homophobic and sometimes hate-inducing statements against individuals and groups, which leads to arrests and public violence against them; critical HIV/AIDS outreach to men who have sex with men has been disrupted because of discriminatory laws, state persecution or public violence in all these and other countries.

International Protection of Human Rights Defenders

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders sets out the obligations of the state with regards to human rights defenders. In particular, pursuant to article 12 of the Declaration, states have the obligation to "take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration." We welcomed the statement in your most recent report, where you reiterated the concern over "the continuing denigration campaigns and the violent threats against defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights."

Petition

The circumstances described concerning the raid by Zimbabwean authorities on the GALZ offices and the prosecutions of Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Mhambi raise urgent concerns about imminent and continuing violations of internationally protected rights to non discrimination, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, protection from torture and ill-treatment, the rights of human rights defenders, and rights of minorities, among others.

The undersigning organizations are particularly concerned about the possibility of future attacks against other members of GALZ and for the safety of Chademana and Mhambi.

We therefore request that you investigate this matter and communicate your concerns to the government of Zimbabwe. 

Please contact us should you require additional information.

Sincerely,

Human Rights Watch
ARC-International
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Just Associates (JASS)
Protection International