Zimbabwe

 

  • After elections, hard work starts for Zimbabwe’s civil society

    By Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Officer

    For many Zimbabwean voters, casting their ballots on July 30 is sure to be a somewhat surreal experience. For the first time since the country’s independence, the ever-present face of Robert Mugabe will not be staring back at them on the ballot paper. But that new experience – while perhaps inspiring hopes for positive change among some – is likely to be preceded by an old, familiar feeling of déjà vu. The road to the 2018 general election has been littered with the same potholes of electoral irregularities and restrictive laws of previous polls.

    Read on: Inter Press Service 

     

  • Alarming trends facing protest movements

     

    40th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Statement delivered during General Debate (Monday 11 March)

    CIVICUS is deeply alarmed that protest movements find themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights. Across the world, protest movements are being met by campaigns of violence and aggression from states that are increasingly brazen about defying global human rights commitments.

    At a time when many hard-won gains are being directly threatened by state and non-state actors, we urge the states present here today to recall that it was people organising in protest and civil disobedience who rolled back slavery, overturned colonial and racist systems of governance, and fought for women’s rights.

    Today, these struggles persist. Yet governments are increasingly responding to legitimate demands of protesters and their movements with absolute intolerance, including extra-judicial killings and torture. 

    CIVICUS echoes the concerns raised by the High Commissioner regarding the brutal crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe, where scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and children as young as 12 arrested, as well as the systemic campaign of brutality deployed against peaceful protesters in Sudan. 

    We ask all states present here today: what measures will you take to ensure that emerging protest movements from Serbia to Algeria to Malawi are nurtured rather than repressed?

     

  • As reprisals continue in Zimbabwe, CIVICUS calls on international bodies to intervene

    (Johannesburg 7 August 2020) CIVICUS calls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to denounce ongoing human rights violations in Zimbabwe and act decisively against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Increasing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, together with the silence of the international community, have prompted an online campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. There have been more than 700,000 tweets in the last few days as people from across the world express their solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

     

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  • Can Zim exiles finally return home?

    By Teldah Mawarire, Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator 

    I know many Zimbabweans in the diaspora. I am one of them. Many such exiled Zimbabweans have written public break-up letters with the country of their birth and “filed for divorce” because the relationship had become too “toxic”. With each passing election, nothing changes despite all the promises. Yet with every election, that tortured relationship is rekindled with hope. Perhaps this one will deliver the chance to return home.

    Read on: City Press

     

  • Civic space and fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe

    Joint Statement at the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council

    CIVICUS and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) welcome the High Commissioner’s update. With a continued focus on prevention, we request the High Commissioner and the Council to pay attention to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. The government has continued with its crackdown on civil society in violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

    The state’s attacks on civil society have been systematic. Since the January 2019 shutdown atrocities where more than 17 people were shot dead and several injured, civil society members across the country have reported an increase in surveillance, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention and interruption of their meetings by suspected state agents. Their legitimate and vital work of providing oversight, supporting and protecting vulnerable citizens, is now criminalised.

    The nation is currently gripped with a crippling economic situation which is creating a restless population. The response of the government by closing civic space and trampling on fundamental freedoms is deplorable.

    In the same period, Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media has led an onslaught against civil society leaders whom they accuse of planning to topple the government. These baseless allegations have been followed by a spate of arrests of civil society activists.  A total of eleven civil society leaders are currently facing charges designed to criminalise human rights work.

    CIVICUS and the Forum request the members of the Council to pay special attention to the situation in Zimbabwe, to read the warning signs of a deteriorating situation and act accordingly.


    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Countries that require the attention of the UN Human Rights Council

    39th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Oral Statement  

    Members of the CIVICUS Alliance in Zimbabwe have expressed grave concern for the authorities’ heavy-handed response to protests in Harare one day after presidential elections were held. Military personnel deployed in response to the protests shot live bullets at protesters, killing at least 6 and injuring many others. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to conduct a prompt, credible and impartial investigation in the excessive and lethal use of force during the course of these demonstrations.

    In Bahrain, SALAM for Democracy & Human Rights, a member of the CIVICUS Alliance, has documented cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders. All major opposition parties have now been dissolved and stripped of their assets. We are equally concerned that security personnel continue to wilfully arrest, physically assault and even kill demonstrators for exercising their legitimate right to public dissent. We urge the Council going to hold the government of Bahrain fully accountable for any violations of its international obligations.

    Finally, Mr. President, in Bangladesh, over the past year, authorities have used a rage of repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out enforced disappearances of opposition supporters ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. We call on the government of Bangladesh to drop all unwarranted charges and end the persecution of individuals and groups for exercising their fundamental rights.

     

  • Human rights groups demand Zimbabwe stop violent repression of protesters and respect fundamental freedoms

    • Security forces violently repress protests, killing at least eight and injuring more than a dozen after using live ammunition against demonstrators
    • Hundreds of protesters arrested during a three-day national shutdown called to protest massive fuel price hikes, with reports of security forces assaulting citizens in their homes
    • Leading human rights defender Evan Mawarire among those arrested and charged with public violence
    • Authorities shut down social media sites and the internet, only partially restoring online access after the end of the strike action
    • Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Civil Society alliance, CIVICUS call on South Africa and the African Union to act to prevent more violence

    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, have called on the authorities in Zimbabwe to exercise restraint and desist from using violence against peaceful protesters who have been demonstrating against a massive increase in fuel prices.

    Security forces used brute force against Zimbabweans who took to the streets during a three-day national strike to protest President Emerson Mnangagwa’s decision to raise the fuel price by more than 150%. This astronomical price hike would see the cost of petrol increase from US$ 1.4 per litre to US$ 3.31 per litre and diesel from US$ 1.36 to US$ 3.31 per litre. The national protests come amidst a deterioration in economic conditions, fuel shortages and ever-increasing prices of food and basic necessities.

    To protest Mnangagwa’s announcement, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and activists called for a national shutdown of businesses, schools and places of work.

    In response, security forces used live ammunition on protesting crowds while in the Matabeleland region, in particular, soldiers reportedly invaded protesters’ homes and shot occupants. Yesterday, army and police officers surrounded the home of human rights defender and leader of the #ThisFlag movement, Evan Mawarire, before arresting and detaining him. Mawarire has been charged with inciting public violence through social media and is yet to appear in court.

    Reports from the ground indicate that armed police, soldiers and masked men have caused mayhem as they kidnapped, harassed, intimidated and attacked citizens, while the streets remained heavily militarized.

    “We are alarmed by incidents of extreme violence being reported, which include shooting at peaceful protestors and forcefully removing people from their homes. This is a gross violation of people’s right to organise and freely express themselves, said Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS.

    “Zimbabwean authorities must immediately stop using violence against its citizens and withdraw the military from the streets. We urge the South African government to intervene immediately to contain this crisis. The African Union must act with urgency to ensure that peace returns to Zimbabwe and hold those involved in the killing and harming of civilians accountable for their actions,” John said.

    “We are concerned about threats targeting leaders of civil society, specifically Crisis in Zimbabwe Action leaders and its Secretariat who are falsely accused of hosting numerous meetings with a plan to unseat the Mnangagwa administration.” Said Tabani Moyo, Spokesperson for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

    “This statement is quite unfortunate as the public space is awash with our position calling for an inclusive national dialogue with all stakeholders.” Moyo continued.

    In a move reminiscent of the manner in which the previous government of President Robert Mugabe often operated, authorities shut down social media sites and completely cut off access to internet during the mass action. Online access has now reportedly been partially restored but social networks remains inaccessible.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Zimbabwe as “Repressed”. This means civil society is significantly constrained and active individuals and civil society members who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, imprisonment, injury or death.

    For more information, please contact:

    Teldah Mawarire

    Grant Clark

    Click here for our Press Centre

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CIVICUS/

    Twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

     

  • Resilience in times of shrinking civic space: How Resilient Roots organisations are attempting to strengthen their roots through primary constituent accountability

    Soulayma Mardam Bey (CIVICUS) and Isabelle Büchner (Accountable Now)

    The systematic crackdown on peaceful protests and demonstrations across the world has shaped our understanding of repression against civil society organisations (CSOs). Yet, less-spectacular restrictions such as increased bureaucratic requirements imposed by governments are not necessarily less threatening to CSO resilience.

    While those tactics significantly hamper CSOs’ ability to operate and can reduce primary constituents' trust in CSOs' ability to represent them legitimately, we also need to acknowledge that these symptoms can stem from our own inappropriate approaches to accountability. When CSOs are not accountable to their roots, this can serve as a breeding ground for governments’ and other non-state actors’ anti-CSOs strategies and rhetoric.  

    The Resilient Roots initiative is aiming to test whether CSOs who are more accountable and responsive to their primary constituents are more resilient against threats to their civic space. 15 organisations from diverse countries and contexts have partnered with us to design and rollout innovative accountability experiments over a 12 month period. These experiments will explore how public support and trust in CSOs can be improved through practising what we call primary constituent accountability, which aims to establish a meaningful dialogue with those groups that organisations exist to support, and increase their engagement in CSO decision-making.

    Accountability and resilience are both highly context-specific and vary not just from country to country but also along an organisation’s thematic focus, size and approach. This means that we need to explore the relationship between accountability and resilience on a case by case basis and across a variety of very different contexts. Keeping this in mind - and without further adieu - read on to meet the some of Resilient Roots Accountability Pilot Project organisations:

    One of these organisations is the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) from Zimbabwe. In the rural area of Dora, in the district of Mutare, they aim to systematically validate actions and strategies through constituent-led monitoring of programme progress. As a platform for civil society that aims to address the root-causes and diverse manifestations of poverty in Zimbabwe, they may face very different challenges from an organisation that works on more politically polarising topics.

    For example, Russian CSO OVD-Info is an independent human rights media project that monitors detentions and other cases of politically motivated harassment, informs media and human rights organisations on the state of political repression in Russia, and provides legal assistance to activists. For the Resilient Roots initiative, OVD-Info seeks to set up a dashboard to serve as a data visualisation tool, which will help evaluate the efficiency of its projects and motivate their constituents to play a stronger role in the organisation’s decision-making.

    In contrast to the technology and data-driven approach of OVD-Info, FemPLatz is a women’s rights organisation from Serbia that seeks a more direct and personal approach. They plan to gather feedback from their constituents through focus group discussions, interviews and workshops while also improving their communication with their constituents through the publication of a regular newsletter. This will allow their constituents to monitor their work and get in contact with them to provide feedback.

    A newsletter can also contribute to closing the feedback loop. Projet Jeune Leader (PJL) from Madagascar, for example, will engage young adolescents, their parents and school administrations to establish a coordinated and systematic means to collect feedback. They will collect feedback through participatory scorecards, stories from primary constituents around the changes triggered by the project, and an updated youth magazine to get closer to their constituents. PJL works on a comprehensive sexual-reproductive health education and leadership development program integrated into public middle schools.

    A particularly creative approach comes from Solidarity Now. Through multimedia productions, their primary constituents will express their daily perceptions, challenges, and dreams through the making and sharing of interactive material like video clips. Solidarity Now consists of a network of organisations and people whose goal is to assist and support the populations affected by the economic and humanitarian crises in Greece. Through the provision of services to both local Greeks and migrant populations, it seeks to restore the vision of a strong Europe based on solidarity and open values.

    In Asia, Climate Watch Thailand (CWT) is an organisation working to drive changes in attitudes towards climate change, and trigger action on the topic. As part of the initiative, CWT is going to strengthen how they formulate policy asks, by continuously testing their relevance to their constituents and this gaining wider support.

    Unfortunately, not all the organisations we work with in this initiative feel comfortable enough to publicly associate themselves to Resilient Roots, without the fear of inciting further anti-CSO responses in their local context. Such is the case of our Ugandan partner, a reminder of how delicate civic spaces are and how important it is for our sector to better understand how to strengthen CSO resilience in recent times.

    These diverse organisations are using a variety of approaches to work on CSO accountability, and we are incredibly excited to be exploring with them how different accountability practices fare in different regional and thematic contexts. What factors will make them successful and where will they need to adjust? In what circumstances does increased accountability actually lead to increased resilience? We are looking forward to sharing this journey with you: how they progress with their projects, the things they are learning, and what you can draw from their experiences to inform the work of your own organisation.

     

    Resilient Roots blog

     

  • SADC should urge respect of the rule of law in Zimbabwe’s post-elections crisis

    JOHANNESBURG: The Southern African Development Community (SADC) should urge Zimbabwean authorities to show restraint and respect of the rule of law in the wake of a violent crackdown on post-election protests.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is calling on SADC to engage Zimbabwe on its response to protesters who express dissatisfaction with the administration of the July 30 general elections.

    At least six people were killed and many more injured when security forces used live ammunition against protesters in the capital Harare, as the country awaited the results of the historic vote.  Riot police and military in armoured vehicles swept through the streets, targeting bystanders and forcing others to shutter businesses and return home.  Several journalists covering the event were intimidated and forced to stop working.

    On August 4, riot police dispersed a press conference organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the capital, Harare.  Before that, police raided MDC headquarters, arresting party members and charging them with inciting and engaging in political violence.  Most are currently being held in Harare’s notorious Chikarubi Maximum Security Prison.  Security forces have intimidated the political opposition and ordinary citizens, arresting supporters of the MDC.  Some have been abducted and others have gone into hiding.  The army is also harassing, under the cover of darkness, activists it suspects of leading the organization of protests.

     The release of the results of the 30 July elections and the actions of the army and riot police have brought back traumatic memories of decades of repression suffered by Zimbabweans, under the regime of ousted president Robert Mugabe.

     “The use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians can never be justified,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy lead.

    “As responsible neighbours and stakeholders of peace in the region, SADC leaders should send a clear message to Zimbabwean authorities to act with integrity and respect the rule of law including exercise of fundamental freedom.”

    The 30 July elections were expected to usher in a new era of democratic governance in Zimbabwe after the military coup in November 2017 but the post elections crisis has led to uncertainty and demonstrated that the military continues to cast an ominous shadow over politics.  Zimbabwean authorities invoked the restrictive Public Order and Security Act to enable the armed forces intervene.  

    The right to freedom of expression, association and assembly is enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution. SADC should call on the government and security forces to exercise restraint and respect these fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.  

    CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, rates the space for civil society in Zimbabwe as “repressed.”

    ENDS.

     

    For more information, please contact:

    David Kode

     

    Grant Clark

     

     

  • What future for civil society in Zimbabwe?

    By Teldah Mawarire and David Kode

    During the stand-off between the military and President Mugabe that led to his historic resignation, there was reason for hope. Zimbabwe's civil society must now re-invent itself to ensure this hope lives on.

    Read on: Open Democracy

     

  • Why SADC must reinvent or remain irrelevant

    By Teldah Mawarire 

    In times of political crises, as was recently experienced in Zimbabwe, citizens expect the regional body to take a bold stance against leaders who disregard human rights and hinder the advancement of democracy. Zimbabweans were quick to remember the numerous previous failures of the regional community. They roundly rejected SADC’s intervention.

    Read on: Pambazuka

     

  • Zimbabwe government must respect the right to protest and investigate abduction and torture of activists

    The government of Zimbabwe must respect the right of its citizens to peacefully protest and must allow demonstrations, planned for Friday, August 16, to go ahead without violence from security forces.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has called on Zimbabwean authorities to uphold fundamental freedoms, including the right to protest. The government has banned public rallies called to protest its handling of the country’s economic crisis.

    CIVICUS has also strongly condemned the abduction and torture of human rights defenders, including Tatenda Mombeyarara, earlier this week.

    Mombeyara was one of at least six rights activists who were abducted by suspected state agents on August 13 and 14 from his home this week, brutally assaulted, tortured and left for dead at a stone quarry in the capital, Harare. The unidentified men accused him of being involved in organizing today’s planned protest marches. Mombeyara, who is recovering from injuries including broken bones, damaged kidneys and chemical burns, is one of seven activists arrested in May on their return from peacebuilding workshops in the Maldives and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

    “We are also deeply concerned about a continued repression of fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe and what appears to be a culture of impunity and a general lack of investigations into human rights violations,”, said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at CIVICUS.

    “The abduction and torture of activists comes amid an ongoing military operation and restrictive environment for human rights defenders in the country,” Mulindwa said.

    The human rights situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, despite earlier promises from the Mnangagwa administration of an end to Mugabe-era repression tactics. Civic freedoms, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression, are routinely and violently repressed by Zimbabwean authorities. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society around the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Zimbabwe as “repressed”. State authorities continue to harass, and arbitrarily arrest those exercising their rights to assemble and voice dissent. Human rights defenders have been subjected to assaults, arbitrary arrest, and enforced disappearance.

    "The occurrences are deeply hurting,” said Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, with Zimbabwean rights NGO, Tag a Life International (TaLI).

    “The security forces does not need to beat and dehumanise people but to monitor and guide peaceful activities of citizens.,” said Mashayamombe.

    CIVICUS has called on the Zimbabwean security forces to avoid using excessive force against protesters as well as for a quick, fair, and independent investigation into the cases of abduction and torture of Mombeyarara and other activists.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Paul Mulindwa

     

  • Zimbabwe Police arbitrarily arrest trade union leaders over planned protests

    • Police arrest, assault union leaders and members ahead of planned peaceful march
    • Authorities banned demonstrations against economic crisis, citing cholera concerns
    • Protests prompted by fuel queues, new tax on money transfers impacting mostly poor
    • National, global NGO groups urge government to respect the protected rights of citizens

    Global and national civil society groups have expressed concern at the arrest of trade union leaders in Zimbabwe ahead of planned peaceful protests.

    Zimbabwean police pre-empted nationwide demonstrations against the deepening economic crisis in the country, scheduled for October 11, by banning them and arbitrarily arresting organisers belonging to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

    The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has urged the authorities to show restraint and respect the constitutionally protected rights of all Zimbabweans.

    Police banned the protests citing concerns of a cholera outbreak in recent weeks. The unions say they are being targeted because of their dissenting message as other gatherings had been allowed to proceed.

    ZCTU members were arrested in the capital, Harare as well as in the cities of Mutare and Masvingo. According to reports, police were armed with truncheons, tear smoke canisters and accompanied by water cannons during the raids. Several union members were assaulted. ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and secretary general Japhet Moyo were among those arrested.

    Following a disputed 30 July 2018 election outcome, economic uncertainty has deepened in Zimbabwe, which has been struggling with foreign currency shortages, hyper-inflation and erosion of the local currency. This has triggered fuel queues as business slowed down in response to the economic decline.

    The government also recently imposed a new 2% tax on mobile money transactions that the unions said will be borne mostly by the poor. Trade unions had organised a protest to highlight these trying economic circumstances to the government and raise concerns about the hardships the new tax would bring for the poor.

    “It had been our sincere hope that after the election in August, the authorities would open more space for citizens, civil society and trade unions to freely express their opinions including through peaceful protests,” said Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Executive Director.

    “Hence, we are disappointed that the authorities are still employing methods of an era gone by to silence dissent,” said Mandishara.

    NANGO also said civil society is awaiting with much anticipation the outcome of a commission of enquiry established after six people were shot dead by the military in Harare at an election-related protest.

    CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to engage with civil society and trade unions on the fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.

    NANGO is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation and the official, non-denominational coordinating body of NGOs in Zimbabwe. It is mandated by its membership to coordinate the activities of NGOs, represent the NGO sector and strengthen the voice of NGOs in Zimbabwe.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Director

    Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer

     

  • ZIMBABWE: ‘Society is only starting to open up to the idea of living harmoniously with LGBTQI+ people’

    Samuel MatsikureCIVICUS speaks about the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Zimbabwe and the ongoing impacts of the British colonial legacy with Samuel Matsikure, programmes manager at GALZ-Association of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe.

    Founded in 1990, GALZ is a civil society organisation (CSO) that seeks to promote and protect LGBTQI+ rights in Zimbabwe through advocacy, research, education and service provision.

    What is the situation of LGBTQI+ people in Zimbabwe?

    We have seen a slight improvement with the recent change of government. In the previous years, the late President Robert Mugabe would contently throw in homophobic statements whenever he addressed the nation. He openly attacked the LGBTQI+ community on both the local and global stages. The current government, in contrast, is not proactive in targeting LGBTQI+ people to push its political agenda. We are seeing fewer rights violations committed by the state against LGBTQI+ people across the country.

    Nonetheless, the government’s relative silence and shift of focus do not mean things are now okay for LGBTQI+ people. In fact, this shift has left us with many unanswered questions because we do not know if the government really supports LGBTQI+ rights or if they do not want to deal with what is considered a very controversial issue.

    Organisations advocating for LGBTQI+ rights continue to question politicians about their strategies to integrate LGBTQI+ people in the community. During the 2017 elections we reached out to political parties to make a couple of questions regarding the inclusion of LGBTQI+ issues in their agenda. Unfortunately, we only received responses from two parties, including the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

    ZANU-PF has recently become quite open about engaging with us on matters concerning the LGBTQI+ community. We see this as a milestone because it previously would not have a dialogue with the LGBTQI+ community. This has helped us to have more conversations with the government and look at the possibility of changing laws and policies. This has also made the public more open about having conversations with us than before. People now hear about LGBTQI+ rights and their responses are more positive than negative.

    How do laws discriminate against LGBTQI+ people in Zimbabwe?

    There are some provisions that promote inclusion, but the reality is quite different. Zimbabwe still has draconian laws that impede the rights of LGBTQI+ people. The current constitution has a bill of rights that aims to promote people’s right to health, privacy and freedom of association. The constitution recognises diversity and includes a non-discriminatory clause. But LGBTQI+ people still have their rights violated regardless of what the constitution says. The laws are there but their interpretation by various parties leads to discrimination.

    According to the experiences we have collected from the LGBTQI+ community, discrimination in the health sector is widespread, although efforts are being made to sensitise and train healthcare workers to improve access for LGBTQI+ people and other key populations. Until recently, by law people were required to reveal their HIV status to their partners, and failure to do so was a criminal offence. 

    The recent decriminalisation of HIV transmission under the Marriage Amendment Bill will be a great milestone for the LGBTQI+ community. It was difficult for LGBTQI+ people to reveal their status to partners or healthcare workers because they did not have easy access to healthcare facilities and feared being reported to the police or arrested. So with the support of new policies and our HIV/AIDS national strategy, the result has been the provision of a comprehensive programme giving LGBTQI+ people the right to access these facilities. This shows that the state is willing to create a space in which people can access these resources; the question is whether they will monitor those spaces to ensure people are not harassed.

    Discrimination against LGBTQI+ people is also present in the workplace. We have dealt with several cases of people being unfairly dismissed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Most businesses involved justify their decisions by saying their companies are founded on Christian values so they cannot work with or support LGBTQI+ individuals. This goes against labour laws banning discrimination in the workplace. Sadly, such cases cannot be taken to court and challenged because the legislation does not recognise LGBTQI+ rights. There are legal loopholes that allow the public to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people.

    Unfortunately, we still have laws inherited from colonial times that cause segregation in our society. The law that criminalises same-sex practices dates back to when we were a British colony. As a result of this law, men who engage in same-sex activities risk a year in prison. The Immigration Act still discriminates against homosexuals and prostitutes. These laws were drafted during colonial times and are no longer applicable: we are a democratic country with a constitution that has a comprehensive bill of rights.

    What work does GALZ do, and what challenges have you encountered?

    For around 30 years, GALZ was the only organisation in Zimbabwe focusing on LGBTQI+ issues. But over the past years, we have seen the emergence of new organisations that are either LGBTQI+-led or are working with the LGBTQI+ community. Because of this, we have been able to reorganise ourselves and prioritise the things we want to focus on while letting other organisations deal with remaining issues.

    GALZ’s work currently stands on four pillars. The first is community and empowerment. Our mandate here is equip LGBTQI+ people with life skills. We also want them to understand their human rights and to freely participate in economic and social activities. We inform them of the processes related to the development agenda and their role in it.

    The second pillar is knowledge, documentation and ideas. The third is policy and law and the fourth is human rights and access to justice. We want to develop strong institutions that will ensure the participation of LGBTQI+ people in communities and uphold their rights. The third and fourth pillars are related to human rights and internal governance and their use is to raise the visibility of the community and provide services related to the rights to property, family and participation.

    We want to build a technical hub for distributing information that will help LGBTQI+ CSOs and guide LGBTQI+ people in building CSOs in a hostile environment. Zimbabwean LGBTQI+ CSOs have been able to develop their own LGBTQI+ advocacy plan. This gives us the chance to speak as a collective and support each other’s advocacy work. By working together, we have been able to provide safe spaces for LGBTQI+ people in our country, including recreational spaces, internet access, support to complete academic studies, and support for students willing to pursue research on LGBTQI+ issues.

    Given the importance of family, GALZ has built a portfolio for parents and friends of LGBTQI+ people, P-Flag. We bring them together to promote the acceptance of LGBTQI+ people within families and communities and share their experiences.

    But we have faced some challenges. Zimbabwean society is starting to open up to the idea of living harmoniously with LGBTQI+ people but has not fully accepted us. We still face harassment from community members. LGBTQI+ activists are arrested for their advocacy work. In the recent past the state used to disrupt our activities and question our legitimacy. In addition, the proposed Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Bill threatens our work: there is fear we may not be allowed to register once the bill is passed. Human rights violations make it difficult for people to participate actively in LGBTQI+ movements.

    How can Commonwealth countries work together to promote LGBTQI+ rights?

    We need to acknowledge that many of these laws in Commonwealth countries are a legacy of the British empire. The laws we still have are repressive in nature and fail to acknowledge diversity and human rights. It is time for us to include the principles and practices of human rights in our laws. As organisations fighting for LGBTQI+ rights we need to pressure our governments to reform regressive policies and abolish laws that enforce discrimination and exclusion in our societies. We should pressure them to respect the constitution and hold people and institutions accountable for disrespecting people’s rights.

    We should pool our resources to mobilise and form a global alliance to bring LGBTQI+ issues to the forefront. By working together we can defeat the discrimination that is embedded in our systems and challenge the laws that perpetuate the violation of human rights.

    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with GALZ through itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@galzinf on Twitter.

     

  • ZIMBABWE: ‘We need CSOs to continue working and defending people’s rights’

    Ernest NyimaiCIVICUS speaks about a proposed NGO bill and the threat it represents for Zimbabwean civil society with Ernest Nyimai, the Acting Executive Director of Zimbabwe’s National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO).

    NANGO is the umbrella body of civil society organisations (CSOs) operating in Zimbabwe, mandated by its membership to coordinate CSO activities, represent the sector and strengthen its voice.

    How do you think the proposed NGO bill would affect civic space in Zimbabwe?

    In our view as the umbrella body of CSOs operating in Zimbabwe, the proposed Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Amendment Bill presents the danger of further shrinking civic space should it sail through in its current form. The bill will put at further risk the fundamental freedoms that civil society is supposed to have to be able to do its work to improve people’s lives. This is due to quite significant proposed amendments that in our view are repressive. 

    Currently, more than 60 per cent of NANGO members are legally registered as trusts, and some are registered under Common Law Universitas. If this bill is passed as it is, they will be automatically deregistered and required to apply for re-registration under the new proposed PVO guidelines.

    The PVO Amendment Bill proposes to criminalise CSOs that support, oppose or finance a political party or candidate. The clause does not clearly specify what supporting or opposing a political party or candidates entails. If a CSO opposes a party’s policy or governance practice, does this amount to opposing a political party? If a CSO gives legal support in an election challenge, does this amount to supporting a political party or candidate? This provision can be abused, especially against CSOs that work on democracy, governance and human rights issues. This provision is contrary to the right to the freedom of association provided for in section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment for violation of this provision without any justification or regard to civil remedies or administrative fines is grossly arbitrary.

    Another reason the PVO bill can affect civic space is that it is phrased in a way that would make room for selective application during its administration. If an organisation is deemed to be operating outside its mandate, its board can be immediately suspended and an interim one can be appointed to act in its stead while a final decision is made. But procedures are not clear, so there is room for the responsible minister, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, to arbitrarily suspend an organisation’s board due to personal interests. This kind of interference in the operation of CSOs would limit their independence and autonomy. 

    The PVO bill was prompted as a way to ensure compliance with Recommendation 8 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which requires governments to review the adequacy of laws and regulations that govern non-profit organisations so that these organisations cannot be abused for money laundering and financing of terrorism. But in my view, the government deployed an omnibus approach to pursue many other interests besides the fulfilment of FATF Recommendation 8 requirements.

    The bill in fact violates the FATF’s balanced approach, which stipulates the need to maintain an enabling operating environment to fulfil FATF requirements. The government has not concluded a risk assessment indicating which CSOs are at risk of being used for money laundering and financing terrorism. This is the ideal procedure as required by FATF to ensure the application of the risk-based approach to mitigating vulnerabilities to money laundering and financing of terrorism.

    How would the PVO Bill, if implemented, affect NANGO’s work?

    NANGO is registered under the existing PVO Act. But if the amendment bill goes into effect, many of our members will be automatically deregistered, which will have immediate repercussions on NANGO, whose greatest strength is precisely our membership. Besides, there are various clauses that impose sanctions and restrictions in terms of programming areas and NANGO is of no exception to this potential criminalisation of CSO work.

    The new legislation will also weaken our eligibility for funding due to increased government interference in the operations of CSOs. The donor agencies we work with require recipient organisations to be independent and autonomous for the purposes of grant compliance. But the implementation of the new proposed PVO Amendment bill will potentially affect our independence and limit our autonomy. Development partners and donors may decide to stop funding CSOs in Zimbabwe if they view it as becoming too risky.

    As CSOs we exist to protect the rights and dignity of people. If the new bill forces many CSOs to stop operating, the vulnerability of communities they serve and human rights abuses will likely increase. We need CSOs to continue working and defending people’s rights in an enabling operating environment. CSOs promote and protect human rights, but through the increased surveillance of CSO operations by security agencies, many activists, human rights defenders and civil society members will be abducted and tortured, and the security threat will increase.

    How is civil society responding to this threat?

    We have used a multifaceted approach, taking advantage of the various strengths we have as a large and diverse group of organisations. In the initial stages, we tried to push back against the PVO bill in many ways, including through litigation to expose the ways in which it would violate constitutional provisions. We also assessed the bill against the core humanitarian standards that we adhere to as CSOs.

    Unfortunately, the bill has nonetheless progressed, so we are currently conducting scenario planning in which the law might be passed. Most of our efforts are focused on engaging, having a dialogue and negotiating with government officials for revision of repressive clauses of the bill. The bill is currently being debated in parliament following its second reading, so we are also advocating with parliamentarians to get them to really understand how this bill is going to affect the work of CSOs and those they work with.

    We are also engaging with the body that administers the PVO Act, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, which played a key role in drafting the bill. We are trying to engage it in discussing the potential political, social and economic impacts of the bill. CSOs are a significant contributor of foreign currency in Zimbabwe: close to one billion dollars per year are coming in the form of official development assistance that is channelled towards various programmes implemented by CSOs. CSOs employ around 18,000 people. If they shut down or their activities are limited, barriers to overcoming unemployment will rise. Our desire and hope is to have an enabling instrument guaranteeing the space for civil society to continue its good work.

    How can the international community help Zimbabwean civil society?

    Zimbabwe is a member of various regional and continental organisations, which we have used to our advantage. We have engaged with regional and continental pressure groups, and especially the FATF, and they have shared their technical expertise on advocacy and lobbying, while also leveraging their convening power to help us engage with our government.

    The international community should continue to assist us as mediators, especially in light of the hostility and limited confidence and trust between civil society and the government. It is very important that they highlight how the bill will affect the general role of CSOs in Zimbabwe. There is also politicisation of CSO work due to misinterpretation of the general role of CSOs in the national development discourse. For example, civil society has the key responsibility of holding the government accountable and advocating for people’s rights, and this bill threatens our ability to fulfil it. We need regional, continental and global organisations to help us advocate with the Zimbabwean government to ensure an enabling operating environment for civil society in line with the ‘whole of society’ approach that the government subscribes to.

    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with NANGO through itswebsite orFacebook page, or by emailing, and follow@ErnestNyimai and@nangozimbabwe on Twitter.

     

  • ZIMBABWE: ‘Young women should be at the centre of discussion of the issues affecting them’

    Margaret MutsamviCIVICUS speaks about the upcoming International Women’s Day and Zimbabwean civil society’s role in eliminating gender inequality with Margaret Mutsamvi, Director of the Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP).

    Established in 2017 with the purpose of helping narrow the gender inequality gap, EJWP is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works with young women to realise their right to sustainable economic independence. It promotes women’s socio-economic independence and full participation in economic governance and public resource management. It provides knowledge, skills and support to young women in local communities so they can self-organise and advocate for their socio-economic rights at all levels.

    Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted disproportionately on women and girls in Zimbabwe?

    The pandemic definitely had a disproportionate impact on women and girls, first of all, because of Zimbabwe’s capitalist-centred response to containing the virus. Lockdown regulations entirely shut down the informal sector, in which 65 per cent of the Zimbabwean population is employed, restricting all movement except for formally registered employees who could present letters on their company letterheads, and of course frontline workers.

    It should be noted that more than 67 per cent of the people working in the informal sector are women, so shutting down their income source pushed most of them into abject poverty, with no alternative livelihoods provided for.

    Second, the prolonged lockdowns that followed found most survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and those at risk of it locked up with the perpetrators of violence. As a result, GBV levels rose to a record-breaking 2,000 cases in the first month of the first lockdown, as reported by Msasa Project. Rape cases also increased under lockdown.

    Third, the prolonged shutdown of schools, which lasted longer than eight months, created a productive gap among young women and induced extreme poverty. Possibly to escape this, many were forced into early marriages and teen pregnancies.

    Fourth, the shift to online tools for learning purposes, along with a lack of smart devices, data poverty, and the unavailability of internet connections, left a huge proportion of students out of education, particularly in rural areas. Research carried out by the Women's Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence indicates that only 35 per cent of students had access to online learning. When those left out of school were girls, too often they ended up in forced marriages or pregnant.

    Additionally, lockdowns in Zimbabwe resulted in shrinking civic space. People were unable to exercise their right to protest in the face of deteriorating socio-economic rights, so women were not able to do much despite the fact that they were worst hit by this regression.

    Notably, it was under lockdown that the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill was passed. The bill would allow the president to appoint judges to the Constitutional, Supreme and High Courts without legislative approval. He would also be able to choose his two vice presidents without an election and be able to delay the retirement of the chief justice by five years. CSOs organised the #ResistDictatorshipConstitution rally. Two young women, Namatai Kwekweza and Vimbai Zimudzi, were arrested during a peaceful protest.

    Civic space has continued to shrink. As recently as January 2022, an initiative – the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill – was submitted that will criminalise the work of CSOs. The bill ostensibly seeks to comply with international standards intended to ensure that CSOs are not misused by terrorist organisations, but this is being used as an excuse to clamp down on Zimbabwean civil society.

    What has civil society done to support women and girls in this context?

    CSOs were up and running providing services to people who reported cases of infection, putting out online campaigns, mobilising solidarity, providing information materials for COVID-19 awareness and prevention, providing sanitisers and masks at vegetable markets to ensure the informal sector could remain open and taking to the courts to challenge some unconstitutional government decisions. For instance, demolitions in the informal sector were challenged by the Chitungwiza Residence Trust and some activists held protests even though they knew they would get arrested.

    As for ourselves, for a while, we were able to assist nearby communities in Chitungwiza, Epworth and Hopley, primarily by raising awareness about COVID-19 and handing out masks and sanitisers. We were also able to monitor key developments in communities throughout lockdowns through our community champions.

    Movement was not easy, particularly, because the work done by CSOs is not considered an essential service. Since we had some projects running that were initially intended to be implemented through face-to-face activities, we had to shift online, with online engagement, online campaigning and online activities. We are now starting to do online advocacy campaigns through theatre. We have a series called ‘Zviriko’ that streams every Tuesday on our Facebook Page.

    What are the main challenges for women's rights in Zimbabwe, and how is civil society addressing them?

    The main women’s rights issues are socio-economic rights. It is appalling just how normalised the lack of adequate social services delivery for women is. This increases the burden of unpaid care work. As a privatisation agenda is implemented, limited access to basic health and basic and affordable education has decreased further. Decent work is a distant aspiration given the levels of abuse and rights violations that take place in the informal sector.

    Additionally, there is an ongoing battle between the state and the Zimbabwean Constitution. The politics at play is unable to provide 50 per cent of female representation in political positions. There is no political will to facilitate the implementation of constitutional provisions as far as gender equality is concerned.

    CSOs have consistently responded to this by providing services to survivors of varying forms of abuse, providing legal recourse, and creating awareness of these rights to build citizen agency.

    There have also been lots of online campaigns, petitions and engagement around stopping the PVO bill that will deprive female citizens of much-needed socio-economic support once the work of CSOs is directly under state control.

    The women’s movement continues to advocate for the full implementation of our new constitution and parity in political representation. Among other strategies, they are holding online campaigns and actively supporting aspiring female candidates to public office.

    The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How are you organising around it in the communities you work with?

    Due to our focus on social and economic rights, #BreakTheBias speaks directly to our mandate, which is building women's power to defeat the socio-economic inequalities that continue to sideline women, particularly young women. We do this in many different ways.

    First, through research and documentation. We believe that information is power, so producing knowledge is our first step towards evidence-based programming and advocacy.

    For instance, we are currently conducting research about the nexus between illicit financial flows and tax justice in the extractive sector and young women in Zimbabwe. We have produced an assessment report to position young women in the 2022 national budget and the recently pronounced monetary policy statement, and we have published a policy brief advocating for gender-responsive policies for pandemic recovery.

    We have also produced documentaries about the experiences of young women in mining communities and the socio-economic barriers faced by young women due to climate change.

    Second, we strengthen the capacities of young women through training. We are currently providing training on fiscal literacy in Harare’s informal peri-urban communities, aimed at strengthening these women’s voices and agency in economic governance in Zimbabwe. In partnership with Transparency International Zimbabwe, we are also working to build women’s knowledge on gender and corruption. EJWP is also working on capacity building for young women on socio-economic rights and transformative feminist leadership.

    Third, we feed our research into advocacy initiatives. We have ongoing advocacy with a series of stakeholders, particularly the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, parliamentarians, the Gender Commission and other government agencies involved in gender issues.

    Finally, we bring change to communities by encouraging people to address issues from the ground up. We have four Community Action Hubs so far and continue to build towards breaking gender bias by empowering young women. Our hope is that one day young women can be at the centre of key conversations regarding national resource collection, distribution and use. We also envision young women taking leadership positions at all levels, enabling them to add authoritative voices towards redressing the issues that are key to them.

    Civic space in Zimbabweis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Economic Justice for Women Project through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@EJWZim on Twitter. 

     

  • Zimbabwe: CIVICUS urges release of #ThisFlag Pastor Mawarire, detained and charged with “treason”

    Update: 08 February 2017
    A High Court judge granted Evan Mawarire bail of 300USD and ordered him to surrender his passport and report to Avondale Police station twice a week. 

    Update: 03 February 2017:
    On Friday 03 February 2017 Pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court. Charged with subversion, plots to remove a constitutionally-elected government, abuse of the national flag and inciting public violence, he was denied bail and remanded in custody until 17 February 2017.

    CIVICUS urges the release from detention of Pastor Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean activist who was arrested on arrival at Harare International Airport on 1 February 2017. Pastor Mawarire, who was returning to his country from the USA, was arrested and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government. He is currently being held at the Harare Central Police Station.

    According to Pastor Mawarire’s lawyer, he is also facing charges for organising demonstrations against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2016, and for protests that were held after he left Zimbabwe six months ago.

    In May 2016, Pastor Mawarire sparked a citizen movement in Zimbabwe called #ThisFlag that urged citizens to display the Zimbabwean flag for seven days as a way to send a message to the government that they wanted an end to corruption, injustice and economic deterioration in the country.

    “The charges against Pastor Mawarire are trumped up and are designed to punish him for exercising his legitimate rights to the freedom of expression and assembly,” says Sara Brandt, Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS. “We believe that the Zimbabwean government is intentionally trying to silence him and the #ThisFlag movement.”

    CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to release Pastor Mawarire urgently, and drop all charges against him. 

    Civic Space in Zimbabwe is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Zimbabwe: Civil society concerned as human rights violations persist after violent reprisal for protests

    Human rights violations continue in Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the violent attacks against protesters on 14 to 16 January 2019. More than 700 people have been detained. The military continues to physically assault citizens and the legal process for many of those who are in detention is seriously flawed. We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and call on the government to address the concerns of its citizens, stop all human rights violations, demilitarise the streets and release all those detained in relation to the protests. Sign the letter below addressed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa with a call for him to address these human rights concerns.


    21 February 2019

    Office of the President and Cabinet

    Munhumutapa Building

    Corner Samora Machel Avenue and Sam Nujoma

    Harare, Zimbabwe

    Tel: 00 263 24270 7091/7

    Email:

     

    Dear Sir,

    Re: Civil society concerned as human rights violations persist after violent reprisal for protests

    We the undersigned civil society organisations, based in different countries across the world, write to you to express our concerns over the continued human rights violations taking place in Zimbabwe, more than a month after the violent reprisal for protests. We are appalled at the ongoing violence targeting ordinary citizens and members of civil society and high levels of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these actions.

    Mr. President, there is an urgent need for inclusive dialogue in Zimbabwe and for the deep divisions and mistrust fostered by recent events between the government, civil society and citizens to be addressed. Since protests were violently dispersed from 14 to 16 January 2019, the streets in Zimbabwe have been heavily militarised and soldiers have been breaking into homes and subjecting citizens to some of the worst forms of human rights violations that have included shootings, severe assaults and rape. The human cost from the response to the protests is immense. At least seventeen people were killed during the protests or succumbed to injuries from the violations, more than 316 injured, many with gunshot wounds, and at least 700 arbitrarily arrested or detained. The arbitrary arrests and sentencing of many is at variance with Zimbabwe’s Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act. A majority of those detained have been subjected to flawed legal processes including mass trials, and many are been denied bail. Some have been brought to the courts with visible injuries, requiring urgent medical attention and many more subjected to mass trials without proper access to legal representation. There is an urgent need for the respect the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

    We are concerned by reports which indicate that in the aftermath of the protests, security forces raided medical facilities, including the Belvedere Medical Centre in Harare, where some of the injured received medical attention and assaulted them again before whisking them off to detention in police stations. Many human rights defenders and civil society representatives have been targeted and accused of colluding with the political opposition to “unseat” the regime. Some have been forced to go into hiding in Zimbabwe and others have had to flee the country to avoid being subjected to torture or worse. Human rights defender Pastor Evan Mawarire is free on stringent bail conditions and also faces charges of subverting the government while the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Japhet Moyo has been detained and injured and faces charges of attempting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government.

    Mr. President, before the 30 July 2018 elections, many Zimbabweans – and most of us in the international community – had hoped to see a peaceful political transition that would usher a new dawn where the rule of law was upheld, and the fundamental rights of all citizens respected. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a continuation of violence against citizens who legitimately exercise their discontent over excessive hikes in the prices of basic commodities and a deteriorating economic environment. While we welcome the release of some of those detained, many more remain behind bars unjustly.

    We urge your government to initiate efforts to find a lasting solution to the challenges affecting Zimbabwe.

    We appeal to you to urgently organise a multi-stakeholder dialogue process that will bring together your government, members of civil society, the political opposition, youth, academics, labour representatives and representatives of the religious community and minority groups, to chart a path to peace, in which all Zimbabweans can participate.

    We urge your government to immediately withdraw armed soldiers out of residential and city areas in both urban and rural Zimbabwe and to carry out an independent investigation into the violence and ensure that perpetrators from the Zimbabwe National Army and Zimbabwe police are held accountable.

    Endorsed by

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  • Zimbabwe: Release abducted activist Obert Masaraure immediately

    CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to immediately release Obert Masaraure, an activist and human rights defender. Obert is the president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), which works, among others, to defend the labour rights of teachers. 

     

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