ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Day of Democracy.
Commemorated annually on 15 September, it is a reaffirmation by the international community of its commitment to build participatory and inclusive societies, based on the rule of law and fundamental human rights. It also provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world and raise public awareness about democracy and to promote and uphold its principles.
This year’s theme is ‘Participation’. Governments are reminded to consider how public participation in democracy can be increased across the globe. It is also a reminder to governments everywhere that participation is the bedrock for a thriving democracy, ensuring better decision-making and strengthening politicians’ accountability to the people. Inclusive participation is vital for a robust democracy.
Taking part in democracy is something that everyone can and should do, at different levels. Citizens have rights and responsibilities to actively participate and build a thriving democratic state. There are a number of rights and fundamental freedoms that enable participation. These include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, access to information and political rights.
ZLHR is extremely concerned by the aggressive erosion of participation rights in Zimbabwe that has undermined civic space over the years. The rapid shrinking and closing of civic space is evidenced by government’s clampdown on human rights defenders (HRDS) with increased criminalisation of HRDs activities.
Some of the targeted attacks that have been well documented include;
- a record 23 people are currently facing charges of subverting a constitutional government.
- recently, several HRDs have been abducted, tortured and left for dead. On 14 September 2019, at about 2200 hours, Peter Gabriel Magombeyi a Doctor, who is also the President of the Hospital Doctors Association, was reported to have been abducted by three unknown men. In all incidents of abductions, police reports have been made, but there have been no tangible updates on investigations;
- a number of journalists have been targeted through arrests, detention and seizure of tools of trade, for practicing journalism;
- lawyers representing those asserting their rights to freedom of assembly and association have been associated with the cause of their clients, they have been threatened with unspecified action. The Executive and the ruling party supporters/ sympathisers have been at the forefront of these threats. A few weeks ago, a lawyer Doug Coltart was assaulted and arrested as he was representing his clients;
- trade unionists have either been arrested, assaulted, or some have received death threats for asserting their participation rights to assembly and association;
- protests organised by the opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, have been prohibited or banned;
The incidents/cases highlighted above are not conclusive, but show a very disturbing trend on systematic violation of fundamental rights and freedoms that enable participation in a democracy.
ZLHR encourages the government to embrace this year’s theme without any reservations.
For the full ideals of democracy to be realised ZLHR calls on government to:
- forthwith cease the persecution of pro-democracy campaigners and refrain from criminalising or taking adverse actions against HRDs and CSOs;
- investigate all cases of abduction / disappearance, torture of HRDs and make the perpetrators accountable;
- speed up alignment of laws with the Constitution and ensure adherence to principles of democracy and constitutionalism.
- domesticate and implement the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance.
Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights