Taking Stock of Our Human Rights Journey

23 May 2018

[Remarks at the launch of the 2017 State of Human Rights Report.  Delivered by Deputy Chairperson Mr. Chesterfield Samba on behalf of Jestina Mukoko]

This year 2018, the world commemorates 70 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone in human history which marked an unprecedented commitment by world leaders to honour, respect, defend and protect the dignity in each of us.

Back home, this year, as the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) we commemorate 20 years since our coalition began in response to the 1998 Food Riots the state attacked rioters ruthlessly causing great harm and suffering. Twenty years later, we take stock. We take stock of how our country is doing in human rights. While our coalition has grown from 6 members in 1998 to 22 members in 2018, it gives us no pleasure to note that while our progress as civil society is a lot, our nation seems to be sliding back to where the world is running from.

In March 2018, as a Forum, we sat down to reflect on the state of human rights in our country and the results of that reflection are not good news. We have captured this situation in the 2017 State of Human Rights Report, which we are launching tonight. It is a tragedy of alarming proportions. Before I talk about the report, let me talk about the situation captured in the report. Just yesterday, 22 March, we commemorated 5 years since we adopted a new Constitution. We spent hundreds of millions in the constitution making process and we proudly announced to the world that we now have an expanded bill of rights incorporating socio-economic and cultural rights, gender equality, rights of persons with disabilities among many other good aspects of that constitution. But what are constitutions if we do not practice the value they celebrate.

The 2017 State of Human Rights Report, the first comprehensive domestic human rights situation appraisal, is a tough and honest rebuke on us. Allow me to walk you through the house we have built and see the victims that we have hidden in this house. In the year 2017, our constitution suffered the worst form of violation since its own birth. Constitution Amendment No.1 was just dragged through despite protests that this was turning back the clock, with the effect of compromising the independence of the Judiciary. Everyone remembers the military coup of November 2017, the complete overthrow of the constitution sowing seeds of great uncertainty.

In the Marange diamond fields, security guards from the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) were implicated in the deaths of 5 villagers, Didmus Ngorima, Kudzai Zambuko, Wonder Kaiza and Kudzai Mariguru. They are no longer with us. All because of diamonds. May they rest in peace. While our constitution provides for freedom from eviction with a court order, in 2017, our government evicted 1 873 households from their homes. While we celebrate a constitution that provides for gender balance, we have a government that is essentially a boys club with only 6 women out of 39 Ministers appointed on 30 November 2017. Do we then wonder why in 2017 alone, we recorded 9 309 violations against women? While we celebrate the constitution, which provides for children’s rights, in 2017 alone, we documented in this report 48 200 violations against school children. While we claim to celebrate inclusivity, our social spaces squeeze out persons living with disabilities.

The municipalities are the biggest culprits in this matter followed by the President’s Office. Out of 21 buildings and spaces surveyed in 2017, only 3 had disability friendly facilities. On environment, the Municipalities again were the biggest culprits for non-collection of refuse and for pumping poisonous water into our homes. These are just but the few highlights on the state of human rights in our country. Our report covers much more detail including issues of access to justice, transitional justice, transparency and accountability, business and human rights. We must address these issues and do so urgently. The report tries to understand – what are the factors that contribute to this horrible state of affairs in our country. It further tried to rank the perpetrators. And one of the factors supporting the culture of human rights violations is the issue of impunity.

How do we deal with this? How do we challenge impunity? As we reflect on the 20 years that we have travelled as a Forum, we have seen many efforts by members of the Forum to challenge impunity and hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable. One only understands the magnitude of these problems when you analyse the ranking of perpetrators. Topping the list of perpetrators in the 2017 State of Human Rights Report is ZANU PF, followed by the police. ZANU PF is implicated in violations related to voter intimidation and violence. ZRP is implicated in mass evictions, torture and attacks on vendors. In terms of severity, the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company tops the list, implicated in the death of 5 people in Chiadzwa. But when you look at these actors, these are all in close proximity to the state hence the police are reluctant to investigate and hold such people to account. So we do have a real problem. Until we stand up against impunity, we remain stuck with this situation.

As the Forum, we have taken a stand against impunity. Today as we launch the 2017 State of Human Rights Report, we also launch the Anti-Impunity Campaign that seeks to reconfigure the relationship between the police and the people of Zimbabwe. We will be talking more about that. As I conclude, allow me to say, the human rights situation in our country is depressing to say the least. As you read through the report, you will hear the voices of the victims. Through the special features inside, you will listen to their testimonies. You will see their wounds. The question is: what will you do about it? This year we are inviting you not to simply take stock of where we are coming from, but to also take a stand against impunity in order to hold perpetrators of human rights violations to account.

We beg you all to please join us. Do something. When you see something, say something. Take a picture. Send an sms. Let us work together to build a country where no child will ever go to bed hungry, where a wife will never wonder what happened to her husband. Let us build a Zimbabwe where human life is sacred once again, and everyone’s dignity matters; regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, faith, age, political affiliation, ethnicity, economic status.

May that be our goal as we strive to change the state of our human rights. Thank you!

Download the 2017 State of Human Rights Report

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.