The ICJ says the systematic assault on human rights defenders has taken the form of arbitrary arrests of human rights practitioners, unjustifiable raids on their offices and interference with their meetings amongst other forms of harassment.
Such attacks have been a continuous source of international concern, including when raised by United Nations Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review of Zimbabwe in 2011.
There has been a failure on the part of the Zimbabwe judiciary to exercise its responsibility of judicial oversight over these abuses, the ICJ adds.
“Government officials including the ZRP are using repressive laws to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and NGOs with the aim of causing them to abandon their work in promoting and defending human rights in Zimbabwe,” said Martin Masiga, Deputy Director of the Africa Regional Programme of the ICJ. “It is deplorable that the government has contrived to fabricate charges against its own citizens to discredit, delegitimize and frustrate their lawful civic activities.”
The ICJ underscores the reports of the arrest of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) Director Okay Machisa (photo) on Monday, 14 January 2013 in Harare on charges of allegedly “conspiring to commit voter registration fraud and publishing or communicating falsehoods”.
The magistrate in this matter denied bail for reasons inconsistent with international fair trial standards and which appeared to be politically motivated.
The arrest of Okay Machisa follows the detention of his deputy, Leo Chamahwinya and three other staff members of ZimRights in December 2012 on the same charges.
These arrests occurred just a few weeks after ZimRights [publicly] denounced the trend of increasing police brutality across Zimbabwe and called for urgent action by competent authorities to address these human rights violations.
The Zimbabwean Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a state party, guarantees the right to the freedom of opinion, expression and association.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which articulates universal standards for the protection of those working to protect human rights, affirms that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels “.
Accordingly, Zimbabwe has a legal obligation to protect those persons and organisations that strive for the protection and promotion of human rights.
Zimbabwe reportedly will hold national elections in 2013, the first since the formation of the Government of National Unity following the tragic events of the 2008 national election.
The ICJ insists it is essential for the people of Zimbabwe and for the advancement of Zimbabwe in the arena of constitutional democracy that State officials exercise their responsibility to protect human rights activists instead of attacking them.
The ICJ urges the Government of Zimbabwe to respect regional and international human rights standards, and to call upon its law enforcement agencies to cease the harassment and intimidation of HRDs in Zimbabwe.
The ICJ calls on the Zimbabwean judiciary to exercise its responsibility to uphold international fair trial standards and the constitutional provisions of Zimbabwe in adjudicating the matters relating to human rights defenders, including the officials of ZimRights.
Martin Okumu-Masiga, Deputy Director of the ICJ Africa Regional Programme, t: +27110248268; e-mail: martin.okumu-masiga(at)icj.org