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ZLHR joins the nation in celebrating Africa Day but...

by Stephen Jakes
25 May 2016 at 07:38hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has said it joins fellow Zimbabweans and the rest of the African continent in marking Africa Day but how ever expressed reservations over the citizens' freedoms in the continent.

Africa Day which is commemorated annually on 25 May and is set aside by the African Union (AU) as a celebration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), presently recognised as the AU, provides an opportunity to audit and acknowledge the efforts and hard-fought achievements of the peoples and governments of this great continent to build a healthier life for citizens and create a better future.

ZLHR commended African citizens and their leaders' efforts to consolidate peace and security and to reject unconstitutional changes of power within the continent.

In a statement the ZLHR said it  salutes the progressive people of Africa and Zimbabwe working towards fostering a culture of human rights, democracy and sustainable peace on the continent.

"We salute them for their courage, determination and tireless struggle to liberate the continent and Zimbabwe from all forms of discrimination and oppression in spite of a repressive environment where the exercise of fundamental rights is curtailed. However, it is perturbing that 53 years after the adoption of a collective responsibility to further the objectives of the AU by founding leaders some African governments continue to trample on the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders through acts of intimidation, harassment, arrests, prosecution and persecution," reads the statement.

"It is regrettable that in Angola, 17 Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) are currently incarcerated and serving jail terms ranging between two years and eight years after being convicted on trumped up charges of mounting a rebellion against the government. The incarceration of the Angolan HRDs is a testament of the shocking levels and extent of intolerance of dissenting views by the Angolan authorities. The conviction illustrates the manipulation of rule of law institutions such as the judiciary to suppress dissent and is testament to the continuing repression and targeting of peaceful human rights activists."

ZLHR said closer to home and being an organisation that is deeply committed to fostering a culture of human rights and respect for the Rule of Law, ZLHR regrets that the majority of Zimbabweans do not have anything considerable to celebrate on such a significant day as the State and other non-State actors continue to undermine the fundamentals of democracy in the country.

"Although there were high hopes for the improvement of political, economic and social conditions in Zimbabwe following the adoption of anew Governance Charter in May 2013, constitutionalism remains elusive as duty bearers continue to violate the Constitution through acts of commission and omission with impunity while the ordeals of human rights defenders have not subsided," reads the statement.

"Ordinary citizens continue to be subjected to flagrant violations of their fundamental rights by State and non-State actors. Arbitrary arrest, assault, torture, abduction and detention of human rights defenders continues three years after the adoption of a new Constitution which expanded civil liberties."

"It is distressing that the government and all the powerful State security organs cannot account for the whereabouts of Itai Dzamara, a well known pro-democracy campaigner, 14 months after he was abducted and disappeared," ZLHR added.

The organisation said while the Dzamara family and other human rights defenders are agonising over the disappearance of Itai, ZLHR is outraged that relatives seeking information have themselves been persecuted as what happened to Patson, a brother of the missing Itai, whom state security agents targeted and brutally assaulted and tortured on 18 April 2016, simply for his untiring efforts in the search for the truth about the fate of his disappeared brother, in circumstances that point to involvement or acquiescence by government agents in the disappearance of the human rights campaigner.

"ZLHR reiterates its call for Itai's immediate release as well as that of other missing human rights defenders, who include Patrick Nabanyama and Paul Chizuze, who have been missing since they were abducted and disappeared in 2000 and 2012 respectively. Events in the past three years have proven that the mere adoption of a Constitution and political rhetoric has failed to usher in a new and improved method of governance," said ZLHR.

"While the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) has been constituted, ZLHR is worried that the NPRC has a finite mandate and three out of 10 years have passed without being put to good use to deal with the past and bring Zimbabweans closer together. National healing and transitional justice processes have failed to materialise or to contribute meaningfully to rebuilding of the lives of those who have suffered such grave violations in Zimbabwe throughout history."

The organisation said impunity remains a blight on the nation through failure to prosecute perpetrators of grave human rights violations.

" Law enforcement authorities continue to misinterpret and selectively misapply laws to suppress freedom of association and assembly despite the Constitution broadening the powers for people to peacefully gather and express themselves," said ZLHR

"Power, authority and resources have not been devolved to the provinces while local authorities and central government have not diligently respected duty to progressively realise the rights to education, health services, potable water, and freedom from arbitrary eviction, particularly for the most vulnerable."

The ZLHR said there has been slow progress in enacting legislation required to give effect to several provisions of the new Constitution or to amend or repeal existing incompatible legislation.

"Any legislation or regulations that are not in line with the contents of the Constitution are immediately null and void. Delay in alignment is not a valid excuse to be used by authorities, but it has certainly contributed to the continued disregard of constitutional provisions by certain arms of government and their officials. This does not absolve the executive, the legislature and legislative drafters from speedily ensuring that harmonisation occurs," said ZLHR.

"It must be noted that harmonisation of laws with the new Constitution is not the end of the matter. Honest and firm compliance, respect for constitutionalism and political will is required if people are to be empowered to assert their constitutional rights and freedoms."

The organisation said despite committing itself to the celebrated and progressive African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Zimbabwe is still afflicted by serious violations of its fundamental provisions and shortcomings in democratic processes.

"As we reflect on progress in attaining and maintaining the tenets of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, it is worrying that the government continues to procrastinate in implementing recommendations of the AU organs such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) which in 2013 delivered a landmark ruling directing the Harare administration to allow its citizens in the diaspora to vote in national elections," ZLHR said.

"There also continues to be a deafening silence and no significant progress towards accepting through ratification and domestication of one of the key instruments that will advance democracy, peace and security in Zimbabwe, the region, and the continent as a whole, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (The African Charter on Democracy) that came into force in February 2012. The African Charter on Democracy seeks to promote adherence by African states to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights premised upon the supremacy of the constitution and the respect for the rule of law."

ZLHR reiterated the need for the government to reflect on its shortcomings in relation to adherence to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and its obligations to implement recommendations from the ACHPR which is a body of African specialists in human rights chosen by African governments themselves.

"Only a country which respects its obligations, institutions and people will, in turn, be respected by its citizens. It is imperative to appreciate that the state has primary responsibility for ensuring that the Constitution is respected, protected and fully enforced and must exercise its duties diligently," said the ZLHR.

"As part of its civic duty and motivated by its desire to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe, ZLHR will continue to contribute to the struggle for democratisation, peace and observance of the Rule of Law in our country and ensure that the Constitution is respected and becomes a living document that is useful in improving our society."

"ZLHR hopes that a day will dawn when the practice of undermining democracy, constitutionalism and human rights will be completely eradicated in Zimbabwe and on our beloved African continent," ZLHR added.


Source - Byo24News

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