Zimbabwe: EU sanctions suspended as Zanu PF steps up pre-election harassment

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch is gravely concerned about the European Union (EU)’s suspension of travel and financial restrictions instituted in 2002 against 81 officials and eight firms in Zimbabwe in response to systematic human rights abuses and political violence initiated by President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party. 

Zimbabwe: EU sanctions suspended as ZANU PF steps up pre-election harassment
Zimbabwe: EU sanctions suspended as ZANU PF steps up pre-election harassment

The Mugabe government has been found to be in contempt of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal on three occasions [2008, 2009 and 2010], but has done nothing to implement any of the respected regional court’s judgments.

The current Zimbabwe government also remains in contempt of the judgment handed down in Paris in April 2009 by a Tribunal of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) which ruled in favour of 13 Dutch farmers whose land was seized in Zimbabwe in 2003. The farmers were awarded €8.8 million in compensation. With interest, the figure now stands at €23 million.

In May 2012, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights found the Mugabe government was responsible for the brutal torture of human rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba during 2003. Other cases of crimes against humanity committed against the people of Zimbabwe are also being investigated.

The announcement by the EU comes at a time when Zimbabwe’s inclusive government has written into law in the new constitution clauses that are in direct conflict with international law, the SADC Tribunal judgment in the landmark Campbell Case and all human rights treaties.

These clauses are more blatantly discriminatory than either of South Africa’s apartheid constitutions of 1961 and 1983 [see Sections 56 and 72 of Zimbabwe’s draft constitution]. They pave the way for the taking of white-owned businesses, mines and other concerns in the same way that the commercial farms were taken.

This is not democracy, this is plain oppression. The Nazis justified their laws of oppression over the minority Jewish race in the name of democracy but it led to genocide and some of the most terrible, inhuman behaviour in the history of humanity.

To expressly prevent those being deprived of their homes and livelihoods from even raising the issue of discrimination in court is more discriminatory than any constitution in the world today.

Justice is about fairness and equality before the law. Freedom from discrimination is fundamental to law, human rights and the protection of human dignity. The apparent collective amnesia – or strategic bargaining – on this fundamental principle is deeply worrying.

The EU announcement also comes at a time when the harassment of political activists and perceived opponents of ZANU PF, civil society and non-governmental organisations as well as the legal fraternity is escalating to an alarming degree.

Less than two weeks after Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s claim that he was not budgeting for chaos and was “bullish” about the 2013 elections, the home of an MDC village chairman and founding member of the party in the Headlands district, Shepherd Maisiri, was attacked and burnt down by ZANU PF.

Although two of Maisiri’s children were rescued in the night blaze, his 12-year-old son, Christpower, was tragically burnt to death. At the time, Maisiri was out campaigning for the MDC.

During the past decade, Maisiri has been imprisoned, his home burnt down several times, his arable land taken from him and given to a member of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and his wife raped by a ZANU PF official. In all, Maisiri has been attacked nine times in 10 years.

This is a microcosm of the dangerous situation in the vulnerable rural areas and we fear for the Zimbabwean people.

The deployment of security forces, intimidation and punishment by a partisan police force and the unleashing of militia are key strategies for ZANU PF’s battle to retain power in the 2013 election.

ZANU PF’s strategic moves in the run-up to the elections replicate strategies that have served the party well for the past four decades.

They include the arrest of staffers in the Prime Minister’s office and the arrest of a prominent human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, for allegedly obstructing justice. Mtetwa has described her arrest as a ploy to intimidate human rights activists and pro-democracy groups ahead of the elections.

We are also concerned that the large-scale lifting of EU targeted restrictions sends out the wrong message internationally.

Despite President Mugabe’s widely publicised calls for peaceful campaigning ahead of the elections, Zimbabweans have learnt to their cost that when he calls for peace, it is in fact a signal for the violence to be unleashed.

Furthermore, the requisite reforms necessary for a peaceful, transparent election have not been put in place, short-wave radios in rural areas are once again being confiscated to block external news reception and people are unable to speak freely without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation.

Zimbabwe is once again on a knife-edge. It is therefore indefensible for the international community to imply – with the lifting of targeted restrictions on 81 ZANU PF officials and eight firms – that all is well in Zimbabwe.

Relieving pressure on ZANU PF without reforms and, more worryingly, without instituting measures to protect vulnerable, defenceless members of the electorate will lead to bloodshed, notably in the rural areas which have in the past borne the brunt of appalling, mass-scale violence.

Ben Freeth, Spokesperson, SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, Zimbabwe