Statement: Remembering the January 2019 #ZimShutdown Atrocities

A year after the infliction of harm and loss of lives at the hands of State security agents following the #ZimShutDown fuel price hike protests of January 14th 2019, the atrocities committed are still fresh in the hands of Zimbabweans. Some are still mourning their deceased relatives and friends; some have permanent bodily and psychological injuries. It is January once more, and the nation remembers. The cries of the wounded and dying victims at the hands of excessive force meted out through baton sticks, gunshot wounds and dog bites remain a dark cloud over the human rights record of the nation. The nation has not forgotten. History has taught us that episodes of violent repression cannot simply be wished away through selective amnesia. Only justice and eliminating the conditions for public discontentment can move the nation forward. The January 2019 crackdown will rank among the darkest episodes in post independent Zimbabwe, as the government which is meant to be the guardian of the Constitution and people’s freedoms, used the State machinery to be belligerent with its own citizens and instill fear. During the period January 14 – February 5, 2019, the Forum documented 1 803 human rights violations, including 17 extrajudicial killings and 17 cases of rape and sexual violence in an onslaught that was of a higher scale from the violations witnessed on August 1, 2018, where 6 extrajudicial killings were documented. The Forum documented at least 51 cases of the arrest and detention of children in a report titled Hear Them Cry: An Analysis of State Violence Against Children During the January 2019 Protests, and torture and assault were recorded at the point of arrests where children were bundled up with adults and over-detained. In another report Burdened by Disgrace: An Analysis of Rape and Sexual Violence During the January 2019 Protests, the Forum reported the atrocities women faced in the form of sexual violence and rape, which cases where never properly investigated by the government. The Forum further reported in Justice Under Siege: A Legal Analysis of the Subversion of Due Process from August 2018 to February 2019 that due process was subverted, including through blanket denials of bail for the arrested, and fast tracking of trials without affording the accused persons time to prepare their defenses. Some of the affected victims were exercising their freedom of peaceful assembly in protest while some were innocent citizens caught up in dragnet and arbitrary arrests while going about their normal business.

The Forum highlighted the brutality of State security agents in the report The New Deception: What has Changed? calling for reforms in the security sector to allow for the citizens to enjoy their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly and association as provided for in sections 58 and 59 of the Constitution. Just as these violations remain to be redressed, the drivers of the January protests remain unaddressed. With deteriorating socio-economic conditions underpinned by ailing economic and political governance, citizens are exposed to dehumanizing conditions, with their dignity much more eroded today compared to January 2019. The cost of living has escalated, with the buying power of the majority’s stagnant income significantly eroded. At least 7 million people are estimated to be in need of food aid. Needless deaths are being registered as a result of the decimation of the public health sector at a magnitude never before experienced in Zimbabwe. With public hospitals almost ground to a halt, and public health professionals engaged in a protracted industrial action that government is failing to resolve, many continue to find themselves without healthcare as most are dependent on the public health care system. That, coupled with a culture of impunity, where State perpetrators of violence are not held accountable, but victims of the state of affairs are prosecuted and abused for exercising their right to speak out, is a sign that recurrent episodes of the public expression of despondency may continue to be seen, unless and until the governments acts to redress the situation. The Forum reminds the government of its duty to provide for an environment that is satisfactory for development and to ensure economic stability in the country, in line with Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

To that end, the Forum calls on the Government of Zimbabwe: To urgently address the economic challenges facing the nation; To ensure justice to victims of the January protests, through holding State security agents who perpetrated atrocities to account and compensating victims or their families for the loss suffered; To effect security sector reforms that ensure human rights compliance and protection; To enact legislation in terms of section 210 of the Constitution establishing an Independent Complaints Mechanism for the accountability of members of the security forces for human rights and constitutional violations; and To open up space for citizens to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (HRForum)