(Johannesburg) – Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting this week should press the governments of Angola and Zimbabwe to improve human rights conditions in advance of upcoming national elections, Human Rights Watch said today. SADC’s annual heads of state summit is scheduled for August 17 and 18, 2012, in Maputo, Mozambique.
SADC should be mobilizing now to ensure that resources are available for the monitoring of elections in Angola and Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said. On August 31, Angola will hold its second parliamentary elections since the end of the decades-long civil war in 2002. Key human rights concerns in Angola that remain unaddressed include the lack of impartiality of the National Election Commission, restrictions on the media, a climate of repression in Angola’s interior provinces, and increasing political violence and intimidation in the capital, Luanda.
“The human rights environment in Angola with elections fast approaching is not at all conducive to free, fair, and peaceful elections,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Angolan government has made sure the vote won’t be a fair one.”
Although Angola’s 2010 constitution guarantees the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and freedom of the media, the government has increasingly limited the exercise of these rights. It has approved restrictive legislation, dragged its feet in allowing privately owned and community radio stations to operate in Angola’s interior, censored state-owned media, sought to control the existing privately owned media, and prosecuted and intimidated independent journalists and civic activists.
The Angolan government has also cracked down on peaceful anti-government demonstrations. It has responded to these recent small-scale protests with excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, and obstruction and intimidation of journalists and other observers. State security forces have increasingly used unnecessary force against peaceful protesters and organizers.
Angolan security forces have previously disrupted demonstrations organized by civil society groups to protest a variety of grievances, including demolitions and forced evictions in Luanda, arbitrary detentions in the Cabinda enclave, corruption, pension claims, and other issues. Many of these protests were announced in advance, as required by Angolan law.
In Zimbabwe, the government’s failure to enact human rights reforms and continuing political repression have raised concerns about the national referendum on a new constitution in 2012 and possible elections in early 2013.
Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2009 established a power-sharing government between the former ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the two factions of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The unity government has made some progress in carrying out certain elements of the Global Political Agreement, including the formation of a “road map” for steps to be taken in order for a free election to take place finalizing the constitution-making process, and appointing a new election commission. But there has been little progress in addressing key human rights issues, including security sector reform, accountability for past abuses, and deterring politically motivated violence and other human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
In the past year, authorities aligned with ZANU-PF have intimidated, arbitrarily arrested, and beaten human rights defenders, journalists, and MDC officials and members. The Office of the Attorney General has shown a strong partisan bias toward ZANU-PF and has used criminal laws to prevent peaceful political activism by the opposition.
Minimal changes to repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) have also failed to open up space for the political opposition. The ZANU-PF wing of the government continues to apply selectively these laws and others, such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, to intimidate and harass civil society activists and MDC supporters and members and disrupt their meetings. Key institutions vital to carrying out free and credible elections, such as the security forces and the judiciary, remain highly partisan toward ZANU-PF.
“SADC leaders need to maintain pressure on ZANU-PF to honor its commitment to reform,” Bekele said. “They should make it clear that there will be consequences if ZANU-PF fails to adhere to the terms of the election road map and the GPA.”
SADC leaders should press the governments of Angola and Zimbabwe to respect fully the fundamental rights crucial for free and fair elections under the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. These principles and guidelines, adopted by SADC leaders in August 2004, call on governments to safeguard freedom of movement, assembly, association, and expression during electoral processes.
“SADC’s principles and guidelines should be more than inspiring language on paper,” Bekele said. “They should be promoted and implemented by member countries.”