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MINISTRY: Rogue civil society resisting PVO Bill, sponsor accusations of shrinking democratic space and protests

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By Leopold Munhende l Chief Correspondent


JUSTICE Ministry Permanent Secretary, Virginia Mabhiza has told African Union (AU) that concerns raised over Zimbabwe’s shrinking civic space and protests against the intended Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill were sponsored by rogue Civic Society Organisations (CSOs).

Addressing the 73rd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Mabhiza demanded that presentations detailing the Zimbabwean situation, which was heard from African Defenders and another, be deleted on record as they were false.

ZLHR executive director, Roselyn Hanzi’s presentation highlighted threats local CSOs were having to deal with, which included surveillance, direct attacks, hate speech, online and offline bullying.

In response, Mabhiza surprisingly said she did not know the organisations despite the Justice ministry’s constant engagements with them.

“Regarding what is being described as shrinking civic space as well as a accusations of a law that is on course in my country to regulate CSOs, I will not go into detail in terms of our laws and protection of human rights defenders (HRDs), but I wish to correct some misleading and false submissions regarding our legislation to govern the operation of CSOs as presented by two speakers.

“This was made by speakers, who are unfamiliar with how we operate because I do not know those organisations; no wonder they were not clear in their sessions.

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“On the contrary the accusation of a shrinking civic space is a false narrative premised on false claims by rogue CSOs in protest to the proposed PVO Act, whose purpose is to monitor NGOs in humanitarian and development assistance.

“It is only a Bill, and it was crafted to comply with the financial action articles, in view of the falsehoods I, therefore, pray that the submissions that have been made be expunged from record if you had recorded them.”

The PVO Bill has remained a problematic as government maintains it was necessary and would be passed into law.

CSOs have on the other hand, accused authorities of interference in their operations and overbearing.

“Zimbabwean authorities should immediately withdraw the PVO Bill, which was gazetted on November 5, 2021 and announced in Parliament earlier this month,” said the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in March this year.

“If passed into law, the PVO Bill would provide the government with unfettered discretionary power to over-regulate and interfere in non-government organisations’ governance and operations.

“For instance, its provisions provide the government with unchecked power to designate any PVO as “high risk” or “vulnerable” to terrorism abuse, thereby allowing them to revoke a PVO’s registration, and remove or replace its leadership.

“Civil society organisations have expressed legitimate concerns over the PVO Bill’s contravention of national, regional, and international standards of freedom of association.”