RIGHTS lobby group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has expressed its willingness to engage government on recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), but indicated it remains sceptical and concerned by the “restrictive environment”.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was in Geneva, Switzerland, last week at which he indicated government’s commitment to improve the country’s rights situation. However, critics have been quick to point out government’s failure to adopt key recommendations relating to general freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution including protecting citizens against torture.
“While we welcome the government’s pronouncement that it is committed to creating a conducive environment for civil society organisations (CSOs), ZLHR remains concerned by the restricted operating environment for human rights defenders who continue to be subjected to harassment, arrest, prosecution and persecution as they seek to exercise their constitutional rights,” the group said in a statement.
ZLHR provides free legal services to human rights defenders, victims of State harassment and arrest as well as media practitioners who have borne the brunt of President Robert Mugabe’s administration.
The statement added: “ZLHR looks forward to engaging in further constructive dialogue with the government on the recommendations that have not been accepted, which if embraced would greatly contribute to enjoyment and exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Mnangagwa appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to explain on measures government had taken to improve the country’s human rights situation following last year’s UPR meeting. Government accepted a measly nine of the 100 recommendations tabled. The UPR reviews the implementation of human rights in UN member states.
“On 16 March 2017, during the UNHRC session, the government accepted nine and partially supported an additional six of the 100 recommendations that were deferred at its review in November 2016.
“Regrettably, some of the rejected recommendations mainly focus on the ratification of important human rights instruments. The government refused to accept recommendations urging it to ratify the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its optional protocol including ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to accept recommendations to issue standing invitations to the special procedures country visits,” the ZLHR added.
Zimbabwe participated in the UPR process in 2011 for the first time, but reports of forced disappearances and torture continue to dog Mugabe’s administration. Democracy activist Itai Dzamara, who was seized by alleged Central Intelligence Organisation operatives, has been missing for two years and while the courts have urged government to investigate, authorities continue to dither over the issue.