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Sadc asked to intervene in Zimbabwe

by Staff reporter
16 Aug 2020 at 08:26hrs | Views
SOUTHERN African leaders have been urged to deal with the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe when they hold their annual summit tomorrow.

officially, Zimbabwe will not be on the agenda of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit that will be held virtually for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Amnesty International says the country is one of the hotpots that need urgent attention.

Amnesty said crackdowns on peaceful dissent in countries such as Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Eswatini had intensified in recent months.

"A number of countries in the Sadc region are experiencing alarming human rights violations and abuses threatening peace and stability and hindering the response to Covid-19.

"In Zimbabwe, authorities have stepped up a crackdown on dissenting voices with state security forces unleashed on activists, human rights defenders, journalists and opposition supporters," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for east and southern Africa.

"Covid-19 has exposed the fragilities of the regional economy.

"In the absence of adequate social protection millions of people employed in the informal economy and those who lost their jobs are facing starvation and destitution, and protecting their lives and other human rights must be top of the agenda at the Sadc summit."

Amnesty said in Zimbabwe there has been a renewed assault on human rights including the right to freedom of expression in recent months, especially targeting journalists, activists and human rights defenders who have spoken out against alleged corruption and called for peaceful protests.

"Journalist Hopewell Chin'ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume are currently incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, after they were arrested on July 20," the organisation said.

"Several attempts by their lawyers to secure them bail have been refused.

"Both have been charged with "inciting the public" Chin'ono for exposing allegations of corruption and Ngarivhume for calling for peaceful anti-corruption protests.

"Two weeks ago, Zimbabwean authorities thwarted a nationwide peaceful anti-corruption protest which was planned for July, and launched a witch-hunt against political and human rights activists they suspected of planning it.

"Several activists and opposition supporters were also arrested, including renowned writer Tsitsi Dangarembga and opposition spokesperson fadzayi Mahere.

"Others were abducted by state agents for being suspected of supporting the national protests."

South African President Cyril ramaphosa last week reacted to growing calls for intervention to stop the crackdown against government critics by sending three special envoys to Zimbabwe.

The mission by the envoys did not bear fruit as they were allegedly blocked by the government from meeting the opposition and civil society groups.

Muchena said the region had a responsibility to address the problems in the Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Eswatini

"Sadc leaders have a responsibility to address the human rights crisis which is unfolding across the region, including by allowing people to freely exercise their human rights and strengthening protections for women and girls' rights," Muchena said.

"If they fail to take steps to protect the most vulnerable, they will be betraying the Sadc's founding principles, which obligate their governments to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of everyone."

Last week 11 unions and advocacy groups representing Zimbabwean journalists petitioned Mnangagwa, Sadc, the African union and the united Nations calling for an end to "increased cases of arrests, violations and harassment of journalists".

They accused Mnangagwa of using the Covid-19 lockdown to clampdown on dissent.

Several journalists, lawyers, civil society activists and opposition leaders have been arrested since the lockdown began on March 30.

The assault on human rights intensified just before protests against corruption that were scheduled for July 31, but were brutally put down by security forces.

A number of government critics have since gone into hiding after police indicated that they were hunting for them in connection with the protests.

The organisations demanded among other things the "dropping of all charges against journalists and media organisations such that there is an enabling environment for media freedom and the exercise of freedom of expression in the country"

They also want "the Zimbabwe security agencies to respect the journalism profession and that they desist from using violence against journalists in enforcing the national lockdown regulations".

The government last week said there was no need to put Zimbabwe on the agenda of the Sadc summit, saying the country remained peaceful.

"It is common knowledge that there is no Zimbabwean issue before the Sadc organ on Politics, Defence and Security," Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.

"Neither is there one such issue before the Sadc summit.

"Definitely there is no such issue before the continental body, the African union.

"All said, there is no crisis in Zimbabwe, which needs external intervention under established international treaties and conventions."

On Friday South Africa's International relations minister Naledi Pandor said it was no longer deniable that Zimbabwe was facing a serious crisis and needed help from its neighbours.

"We all know that Zimbabwe has various economic challenges and that their current situation impacts on south Africa because many Zimbabweans come to seek a livelihood in south Africa," Pandor told Radio 786.

"We have to work with Zimbabwe in order to address that economic situation and find a way of helping to reverse the current situation so that the citizens of Zimbabwe can happily return to their country.

She said there was a political crisis in the country that could only be solved through dialogue.

"There's a political problem, it's undeniable, it's there and the people of Zimbabwe have to find a solution to it," Pandor added.

"We as south Africa are ready to assist. We sent envoys there because there has been a huge concern about reports of abuse of human rights, imprisonment of opposition MPs and many other concerns which have been directed at the presidency and my department."

The minister said discussions were under way for Ramaphosa's envoys to return to Harare following their botched mission.

"We agreed the president would appoint three envoys and they would visit Zimbabwe and we asked that they meet the president of Zimbabwe but also meet other stakeholders in the opposition, nGOs and so on," Pandor added.

"Unfortunately, they could not meet the other stakeholders but Zimbabwe has indicated their readiness to facilitate such a visit and we are in discussions with the president about the envoys returning to Zimbabwe to have a wider range of meetings than they were able to have at this first contact.

"So, we are not distressed that the full expectation was not met in this first visit.

"This is something we must continue to work at.

"As I said, the situation of Zimbabwe impacts on south Africa and so we have to continue meeting with, talking to (the Zimbabweans) and attempting to resolve the problems there in order to address our own situation and focus on the challenges of south Africa."

In 2008 former south African president Thabo Mbeki was appointed by sadc to negotiate a political settlement following an orgy of political violence that was blamed on the ruling Zanu-PF and security forces.

Zanu-PF eventually formed an inclusive government with the opposition MdC, which led to relative peace and an economic rebound.

Source - the standard