The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place from 20 to 25 June in Kigali, Rwanda. Zimbabwe has applied for possible re-admission to the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe was unilaterally removed from the Commonwealth in 2004 by President Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe had been suspended from the Councils of Commonwealth in March 2002, specifically because of an adverse report on the 2002 elections by the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG). This decision had followed a warning from the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group (CMAG) that suspension could follow if the 2002 election was unsatisfactory and followed other initiatives by the Commonwealth, most notably the Abuja Agreement in September 2001. The Abuja Agreement followed the unsatisfactory election in 2000 but was also predicated on the problems over land reform.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, (the Forum), has remained seized with the issue of Zimbabwe’s relationship with the Commonwealth both before and after Zimbabwe’s withdrawal, and issued several analyses and reports:
- Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (2003), Zimbabwe, the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth Principles: Compliance or Disregard? 8 September 2003, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
- Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (2007), Revisiting the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe: What is to be done? An Assessment of Zimbabwe’s Performance since its Withdrawal from the Commonwealth & Suggestions for Re-engagement by the Commonwealth. February 2007, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
We draw the Commonwealth’s attention to these reports because they outline in detail the problems that led the Commonwealth to take action on Zimbabwe, and this is relevant for any discussion about re-admission. We would note that since the suspension and withdrawal of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, the country has held four elections, one of which was so violent that it was repudiated even by the African Union. None of the elections has received a passing grade from reputable observer groups.
We also note the serious political change that took place in November 2017 with the removal from office of Robert Mugabe, and the human rights record of the government both before and after the election in 2018. The Forum has had occasion to issue repeated reports documenting the unacceptable human rights record of the Zimbabwe government since November 2017. We cite here a just a few:
- ZHRNGOF (2019), “The New Deception: What has Changed?” A Baseline Study on the Record of Zimbabwe’s ‘New Dispensation’ in Upholding Human Rights, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
- ZHRNGOF (2020), “Ruled by Violence”: An Analysis of the Nature, Patterns and Execution of Violence in Zimbabwe since 1998, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
- ZHRNGOF (2020), Guns Run Amok. A Review of the 1 August 2018 and 14 January 2019 Crackdown on Civilians by the Security Forces, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
- ZHRNGOF (2021), Organised Violence and Torture and Elections in Zimbabwe, (26 June 2021) Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
We draw attention to these reports because they demonstrate that it is doubtful that Zimbabwe currently meets the conditions of adherence to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration (1991), or The Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration (1995).
We also wish to place on record the concern of the Forum over the intention by the Zimbabwe government to restrict legitimate civil society activities through the proposed Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, legislation that flies in the face of a proper commitment to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration in:
- the protection and promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth;
- democracy, democratic processes and institutions which reflect national circumstances, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, and just and honest government;
- fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief.
The Forum has also documented the upsurge in politically violent activities at the instigation of the State and its ancillaries as the nation inches closer to the 2023 polls. A total of 1 017 politically motivated human rights violations have been recorded by the Human Rights NGO Forum in the first half of the year alone. The violations, recorded by the Forum in its mid-annual Political and Human Rights Violations (January to June 2022) Report, range from arbitrary arrests with a growing and disturbing trend being observed through the manipulation of the criminal justice system by state personnel to intimidate and punish perceived dissent by the adoption of protracted and undue pre-trial incarceration processes often characterised by the denial of bail; abductions, assault, torture including a total of ten extra-judicial killings. This serves to confirm the systemic nature in which both the ruling party and law enforcement agents have become and continue to be the biggest threat to the enjoyment of human rights by citizens in Zimbabwe.
In view of the above, the Forum urges the Government of Zimbabwe to demonstrate a genuine and sustained effort at implementing political reforms and to show this commitment by:
- conforming to the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (UDHRD) which accords specific protections to human rights defenders and which stands ratified by the Government of Zimbabwe;
- taking urgent steps to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and its Optional Protocol;
- ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
- desisting from advancing a regressive legislative agenda aimed at narrowing democratic and civic space in the country through:
- withdrawing the PVO Amendment Bill, 2021 and the subsequent proposed amendments proposed by the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare which appeared in the National Assembly Order Paper of 9 June 2022;
- immediately engaging in a comprehensive targeted and risk-based approach to identify, assess and understand money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF) risks in relation to and in consultation with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) taking into account CSOs calls for an alternative self-regulatory model;
- squashing efforts aimed at pushing for the enactment of the Patriotic Bill;
- ultimately through taking due cognizance of the rights to freedom of association and assembly as articulated under section 58 of the Constitution.
In particular, the Forum, while keen for Zimbabwe’s eventual return to the Commonwealth family, maintains the view that any re-admission should follow a comprehensive and exhaustive evaluation of current conditions in the country by a high-level Commonwealth mission that consults widely with all stakeholders in the country and should ultimately be predicated upon a demonstrable commitment on the part of the Zimbabwean Government to uphold, defend and respect the sanctity of the Constitution and the principles buttressing constitutional democracy in the Republic that include constitutionalism, good governance and the rule of law.
Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum