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By NQOBANI NDLOVU/OBEY MANAYITI
THREE leading international human rights watchdogs — Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Oxfam International (OI) — have written to President Emmerson Mnangagwa seeking to meet him over the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth, OI executive director Winnie Byanyima and AI secretary-general Kumi Naidoo in a joint letter to the Office of the President dated February 4, 2019 raised concern over a “pattern of suppression of dissenting voices”, citing the August 1, 2018 and January 14 killings of civilians in post-election and fuel price hike protests, respectively.
Roth, Byanyima and Naidoo said failure to bring to justice those accused of the killings and other rights abuses bred a culture of impunity with dire consequences on the human rights situation and the humanitarian crises not only in Zimbabwe, but in southern Africa.
“We are, therefore, deeply concerned that without decisive action to address and end the ongoing human rights crisis, the situation will continue to deteriorate, and, consequently, exacerbate the humanitarian situation, not just nationally, but regionally across the Southern African Development Community (Sadc),” the letter reads in part.
“We would very much appreciate the opportunity to meet with you at your convenience to discuss ways to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.”
The security forces have been accused of the killings and other human rights abuses following the deployment of soldiers after last year’s general elections and recently during protests over an increase in the price of fuel.
Mnangagwa, who has attracted international condemnation, has justified the army deployment, while also dismissing reports of killings, rape and other violations by the security forces.
“The failure of the authorities to bring to justice government officials and members of the military and police responsible for serious abuses, regardless of rank, breeds a culture of impunity that can only lead to increased human rights violations throughout the country. It also denies victims the right to an effective remedy,” the letter adds.
“While we appreciate the space you have created for some dialogue with you, including on the death penalty, and your government’s support in the delivery of some impactful humanitarian work that has served many lives in Zimbabwe, we worry that the current trend threatens the potential gains from these engagements.”
Meanwhile, MDC and some human rights groups have reacted angrily to Mnangagwa’s statement exonerating the military from heinous offences committed during the recent crackdown against protests, urging Sadc to keep its eyes on the ball and push for an independent investigation.
In an interview with France 24 on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) summit, Mnangagwa demanded concrete evidence on all the accusations levelled against the army.
According to reports by human rights groups, at least 17 people were killed while several others had their rights violated, including being raped.
MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said Mnangagwa was just confessing ignorance to hoodwink the international community in the same manner that he professed ignorance at the August 1 shooting.
Mafume said Sadc leaders must also not take Mnangagwa’s word in its entirety, but to continue investigating and find solutions for the country.
“He misled them showing them pictures of stage-managed dialogue, not mentioning that it was a counter to dilute real dialogue called by neutral people,” he said.
Mafume said they welcomed the fact that Zimbabwe was back on the Sadc agenda, but urged the region to listen to different perspectives from the church, civil society, political parties, businesses and others.
He said the denial was a clear sign that Mnangagwa’s regime was not fit for office and that the President must understand the basic fears of victims of rape, which include trivialising their predicament in the same manner he did.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Thulani Mswelanto said it was unfortunate that Mnangagwa chose to deny clear facts in front on his colleagues at Sadc and the AU.
He also disputed that civil society was getting funding to foment unrest in Zimbabwe.
“The statement is unfortunate and by criminalising the work of civil society, a greenlight has been given to the Zimbabwe government to hunt down activists and human rights defenders,” Mswelanto said.
“The statement casts a blind eye on the findings of the [Kgalema] Motlanthe Commission, which put blame on the military for the shootings. Sadc must remain an avenue that is receptive to the plight of citizens and exercise its oversight role on member States in an objective and credible manner.”
Human Rights Watch southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga said there was abundant evidence that could be extracted from witnesses, relatives and friends of those affected.
“Instead of defending the security forces, President Mnangagwa should push for an independent, international and thorough investigation to ensure justice and accountability for these horrific crimes against humanity,” he said.