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State crackdown on protesters, Byo deaths, highlight 2016 rights situation

30/12/2016 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
 
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A VICIOUS state crackdown of protest movements, two Bulawayo deaths related to demonstrations and a blanket ban on all protests in September, highlight a turbulent year which rights defenders say signalled a further slide in the country’s rights situation.

Although there were positives registered especially in areas to do with the outlawing of child marriages and the reversal of death sentences on some death row inmates, observers still feel the negatives far outweigh any perceived gains.

The year 2016 started with the state violently breaking up a meeting by war veterans which saw the former liberators gassed by anti-riot police with some falling unconscious after inhaling choking smoke.

Later during the year, some war veterans’ leaders were arrested and found deserving of legal representation by rights lawyers who have often offered the service to government critics.

The rise of protest movements which saw the July 6 national shutdown and wide anti-government resistance also invited a brutal state backlash which was desperate to repel what could have easily become a fully-fledged anti-government rebellion.

This was followed by targeted abductions, and torture on known protest leaders.

The height of the violations was probably the death of an adult and a one-year-old minor after police fired teargas in the corridors of a Bulawayo block of flats during a clampdown on anti-government protesters July this year.

The vicious beating of an old women protester by anti-riot police captured on video also caused an uproar among Zimbabweans.

Outspoken cleric and now exiled Evan Mawarire’s arrest July this year also evoked deep emotion among Zimbabweans at home and abroad who felt strongly about the #ThisFlag campaigner’s cause.

The situation reached a new low when President Robert Mugabe singled out the firebrand preacher for punitive action for allegedly whipping up anti-government sentiments.

In September this year, the state imposed a blanket ban on opposition rallies citing a tense security situation in the country and went on to ignore court rulings reversing the ban.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Lloyd Kuvheya feels the ban was among the worst violations by the state in 2016.



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"The government closed down the space for people to go into the streets or to file petitions whenever they had issues they wanted to raise and hold the State and its institutions accountable; to me that was a serious violation," Kuvheya told NewZimbabwe.com.

Another talking point was the continued crackdown on Harare vendors which saw the state deploy soldiers in a bid to push the huge army of street traders from city pavements with fears the concentration of jobless citizens in a small space could trigger anti-government riots.

Journalists also found themselves at the receiving end while covering protests when some were being assaulted and arrested.

Five opposition MPs and close to 90 protesters were arrested in September as police tried to clamp down on countrywide protests for electoral reforms.

Kuvheya said some of the main violations were witnessed around socio-economic rights which are guaranteed in the country’s constitution.

He said access to water, let alone clean water, and the continued demolition of homes ranked among the top violations by the state during the year.

Rights groups also reported continued food aid discrimination on non-Zanu PF supporters with former Vice President Joice Mujuru supporters also being targeted.

"The government failed to ensure the provision of adequate food such that we are made to rely on the international community like the World Food programme," Kuvheya said.

The year also witnessed several by-elections during which Zanu PF was fingered for alleged acts of intimidation on opponents.

The state also came under fire for failing to ratify the UN Convention against torture, over two decades since the treaty was signed.

Criticism was also directed at the state for failing to operationalise the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

During the year, Zimbabwe also presented its rights report for assessment at a UN Peer Review Meeting on Human Rights in Geneva November.

Civil servants also felt hard done by government as they failed to receive salaries on time while depositors have also alleged rights violations after the government virtually converted their US dollar balances to Zimdollars following the introduction of bond notes.

The selective application of the law featured strongly as a major rights violation as Zanu PF loyalists were spared any arrests for acts of violence and corruption.

Kuvheya sums up the 2016 rights situation.

“When there was a government of national unity, there was a lot of improvement in terms of observance of human rights and the rule of law but after 2013, that’s when we began to witness the erosion of human rights,” he said.

“When you compare the period 2009 to 2013 and what has then happened in 2016, you then see that regression. So, it’s unfortunate that we are going to back to pre-2009 era in terms of these violations.”

But Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairman Elasto Mugwadi saw the silver lining saying the country made strides in promoting human rights.

“There is general improvement if you would want to have details of that I think you could refer to the Mo Ibrahim Index where they are talking about the human rights terrain in Zimbabwe and the achievements made so far," he said.

Mugwadi said the accreditation of the commission by the Global Alliance of Human Rights Institutions under the 'A 'status May this year was a positive in the country’s efforts towards recognising rights.


 
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