By Staff Reporter
THE United Nations special rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association has strongly criticised President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration for its over-reliance on the military to quell dissent.
In his final report following a 10-day visit to Harare on a human rights situation assessment he undertook in September last year, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule said he was also deeply troubled to observe the reducing of civic space, creating an environment of persecution and fear in the country.
He said there was no justification for the government’s use of excessive force to restrict freedoms of association, assembly and expression which are enshrined in the country’s constitution.
He made particular reference to the brutal killing of six civilians during the ill-fated post-election protests of August 1, 2018 when Mnangagwa’s regime unleashed the military to use live ammunition on protesters and bystanders in Harare as well as the January 2019 uprisings which left 18 dead.
Regarding the use of force, the Commission concluded that; “The use of live ammunition directed at people especially when they were fleeing was clearly unjustified and disproportionate.”
“[T]he use of sjamboks, baton sticks and rifle butts to assault members of the public indiscriminately was also disproportionate,” reported Voule, a Togo national in his full report released Monday.
“In the light of such events, the Special Rapporteur is deeply troubled to observe that, following these major events, which occurred between August 2018 and January 2019, there has been a considerable deterioration of civic space in the country, which has re-established an environment of persecution and fear.”
“Despite constitutional and legal provisions allowing for the deployment of the military to maintain public order or manage a public emergency, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that, in both events, military forces have been deployed without a clear mandate in law enforcement operations and in the management of assemblies, and that the Parliament was not informed in a timely manner of the details of such deployment.
“The Special Rapporteur has not received any information on the prosecution or indictment of any alleged perpetrators of the human rights violations committed during and in the aftermath of these particular protests, including any compensation for the loss of private property of individuals who closed their businesses as a result of the violence on the streets,” the damning report adds.
Voule said he was conscious that political polarisation, poor governance and a fragile economy exacerbated discontentment with the government and prompted demonstrations and strikes.
He believes that the Government should look at the root causes of the different crises and strengthen the dialogue among the different political, social, and economic actors throughout the country. He also recommended against the use of the army in enforcing public order.
“Finally the Special Rapporteur is of the view that, as a general rule, the military should not be used to police assemblies and that, in the exceptional circumstances in which this becomes necessary, the military must be subordinate to civilian authorities.
“For this purpose, the military must be fully trained, adopt and be bound by international human rights law and principles and any law enforcement policy, guidelines and ethics, and be provided with adequate training and equipment,” Voule reported.
The censure comes when the government recently rushed to claim it was implementing recommendations of a special commission on August 1, 2018, shootings chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, although none of the identified perpetrators were brought to book.
The government has also threatened to use brute force to quell peaceful protests planned for 31 July by Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume.
“What is being planned for July 31 is unconstitutional and it will not be allowed to happen. The State has apparatus that are in place to ensure that the constitutional order obtains,” Information Ministry secretary, Nick Mangwana said.
“They are all constitutional organs, the police are a constitutional organ, you will find their space in the constitution, the military is constitutional security organ, so is the State security, their role is State security, the security of the State within its borders and the security of the State without the borders and everyone will just do their jobs,” he added.