Commemorating the International Day of Democracy

In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly resolved to observe 15 September as the International Day of Democracy, to promote and uphold the principles of democracy and good governance. This day comes amid continued calls by civic society organisations and institutions supporting democracy for multi-stakeholder efforts towards the promotion of inclusion, equal treatment, and participation in democratic governance issues by citizens to ensure sustainable peace and economic development.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) is extremely concerned that the government of Zimbabwe continues to renege on its obligations to promote a democratic society as enshrined in regional and international instruments and protocols ratified by Zimbabwe including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose article 21 (3) particularly states that: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The principles of democracy are also enshrined under Article 2(1) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance wherein Zimbabwe being a signatory acceded to “Promote adherence, by each State Party, to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights.”

Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy.  Section 3 (2) (f) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe reposes the authority to govern in the people of Zimbabwe. In addition, section 117 grants the legislature the power to “… to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe.”

Given such fertile ground for the growth of democracy, it is disappointing to note the continuous disregard for democracy and the rule of law by the State. The government of Zimbabwe continues to trample on the fundamental principles of a democratic society, particularly respect for the rule of law, transparency, accountability, citizen participation and respect for human rights. The State remains the main culprit of incessant attacks on citizens exercising their rights.

It is saddening to note that the State has criminalised divergent views and free speech through abducting, torturing and unlawfully arresting citizens who speak up against corruption and the State’s obvious departure from the tenants of the Constitution. In recent months, journalists, whistle-blowers, human rights defenders, and citizens who speak up against the State have been brutalised in the guise of enforcing COVID-19 regulations. The crackdown on civilians is exacerbated by the heavy presence of the military and their involvement in civilian affairs.

The State has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to restrict the freedom of assembly and the freedom to protest which are key to citizen involvement and participation. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, in his report on Zimbabwe in 2019, noted the increased systematic restriction of these rights for citizens, civil society organisations, and labour movements at the hands of the State.

Since 2017 when the “New Dispensation” took over, not less than twenty-five unarmed civilians have been gunned down by the military whilst seventeen people were raped and sexually assaulted by soldiers in January 2019 alone. There has never been any prosecution or record of bringing perpetrators to book. The State flatly deflects by accusing opposition party supporters, civil society organisations or simply a “third force” for these atrocities.

Citizens with divergent views are automatically presumed guilty, arrested before investigations are done and denied bail. In contrast, sympathisers of the State are treated with golden hands despite committing crimes far-reaching than dissenting citizens.

On the International Day of Democracy, the Forum takes this opportunity to remind the government of the importance of individual liberties and the importance of human security in a democratic State. In light of this, the Forum urges the government:

To respect human rights and the rule of law as enshrined in the Constitution and regional and international instruments to which Zimbabwe is party;

To respect citizen participation and free speech;

To return soldiers to the barracks. Zimbabwe is not at war;

To investigate all cases of enforced disappearance and torture, and  hold perpetrators accountable;

To speed up the alignment of laws with the Constitution and ensure adherence to principles of democracy and constitutionalism; and

Domesticate and implement the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

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