AMNESTY International’s ability to speak authoritatively on alleged human rights abuses in Zimbabwe has come under scrutiny after it closed its Harare branch in June over alleged abuse of donor funds and fraud by its staff members has exposed its serious shortcomings and double standards.
Worse still, besides just closing office, Amnesty International has failed to act on workers caught in the much publicised audit, denting its credibility and exposing it as a badly managed organisation that seeks to see specs in other organisations’ eyes, yet it a has a log in its own.
The Harare office was closed after the parent organisation issued a damning report on the operations of the local branch.
In a statement released at the time, Amnesty said: “An extensive forensic audit was conducted in late 2018 which uncovered evidence of fraud and serious financial mismanagement by individuals in AIZ.”
Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana said when any organisation questions governments over human rights allegations, it should ensure that its own standards are beyond reproach.
“And Amnesty has failed its donors, stakeholders, and supporters by not keeping its own house in order, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
“Millions of dollars are still unaccounted for — a first for Amnesty and a huge loss of face for an NGO that prides itself as a human rights champion.
“So it comes as some surprise that Amnesty has now attacked Zimbabwe for an alleged human rights crackdown since the fall of Robert Mugabe in 2017. It has produced a report that catalogues allegations of abuses, including arrests of rights activists in the country,” he said.
Amnesty’s regional spokesperson, Mr Robert Shivambu, declined to comment on the allegations citing pending investigations.
Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa, Mr Muleya Mwananyanda, claimed that the Zimbabwean Government has carried out a ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalised.
Mr Mangwana added: “As Amnesty no longer operates an office in Harare, one wonders how they were able to verify these allegations. Its country director had resigned once the fraud was revealed, while the chair and finance officer are currently suspended and Muleya Mwananyanda is based out of Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa.
“For an NGO to judge both protesters and the Government fairly in Zimbabwe, it should be on the ground to see the real situation.
“What is going on at Amnesty International? First, two staff members killed themselves last year. Then an internal review ordered by Amnesty secretary-general Kumi Naidoo revealed a ‘toxic’ workplace culture of bullying and nepotism,” said Mr Mangwana.
He added: “We also wish Amnesty International would improve on its governance and credibility after recent corruption scandals involving the major abuse of donor funding and false claims that one Tinashe Kaitano of Kadoma had been shot by authorities and buried, a claim which later proved to be a falsehood when Mr Kaitano appeared in court,” said Mr Mangwana.
As for the current situation in the country, Mr Mangwana said it is quite clear to most observers that Zimbabwe had made great strides in opening up media, economic and political spaces since President Mnangagwa came into office.
The Government is reviewing the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
The former was repealed last month and replaced by the Freedom of Information Bill, which seeks to uphold citizens’ rights to access information in line with Zimbabwe’s Constitution and established international norms. The latter is expected to be succeeded by the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill (MOPA) soon, which aims at ensuring the freedom of assembly and modernising the management of public gatherings.
He added that perhaps Amnesty failed to get a true picture of the changes taking place in Zimbabwe, focused as it is on its own internal issues and lacking the local knowledge that would be crucial in such analysis.