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UN International Day
in Support of Victims of Torture
Sokwanele Report : 26 June 2005
It was on June 26, 1987 that the United Nation's Convention against Torture first came into force and in 1997, to highlight their plight, the UN General Assembly officially proclaimed June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
Sadly only 130 of the 190 UN member states have so far ratified the Convention. Zimbabwe is one of those states which have not. Parliament in fact voted to ratify the Convention but to date the Minister of Home Affairs and the President have not done so, leaving Zimbabwe out in the cold as one of those rogue states which refuse to take seriously the fundamental issue of human rights. UN member states which sign the Convention render themselves accountable under international law to take action to prevent torture and to support the victims when torture takes place. Clearly therefore a rogue state like Zimbabwe under ZANU PF rule, which resorts to torture routinely as a measure of coercive control over a disenchanted population, is not going to accept the principle of accountability, let alone agree to support the victims. Yet through Parliament the people have spoken, and it is clearly their will that the Convention against Torture should be accepted and implemented. Arguably therefore it falls to the people of Zimbabwe to remedy the obstructive policies and delinquent practices of their rulers and to take it upon themselves to act forthwith on the basis that the Convention is binding.
This would imply three things at the very least for those trade unions, churches, student, civic and other groups which support the Convention - first that they take up the task of carefully monitoring the continuing human rights abuses with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice when the rule of law has been restored; then that they take every opportunity to expose those abuses before the international community; and thirdly that they provide immediate practical support and succour for the victims.
In any event, whether Zimbabwe is a signatory of the UN Convention against Torture or not, torture remains a crime under international law and in a number of recent instances the United Nations has shown its collective will to bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as circumstances will allow. Those who seek to uphold the principle of accountability for the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses, should bear this in mind - particularly when they are confronted, as in our case, by a regime which is deliberately fostering a culture of impunity.
In recent years the Mugabe regime has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for a huge number of human rights violations, including torture. At the time of writing the two most obvious and widespread instances are the so-called Murambatsvina campaign (meaning "Clear away the Trash") and the continuing use of food as a weapon of political coercion. Estimates of those rendered homeless under "Murambatsvina" - or what has been called the "Mugabe tsunami" - vary from 300,000 to over a million, and of those who have lost their livelihood or source of income through the destruction of the informal sector, between 3 and 4 million.
As we pointed out in an earlier Sokwanele article* not even in apartheid South Africa was such a huge number of people forcibly relocated within the space of a few days. There is no precedent in southern Africa for such an attack upon a section of the population in a nation supposedly not at war with itself. The victims of the politicization of food on the other hand are often far less visible - indeed deliberately so as far as the regime is concerned, so that estimating their numbers is more problematic.
Both of these calculated terror campaigns clearly fall within the broad definition of "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" which the UN Convention outlaws. Moreover since the perpetrator is the regime itself or its agents, we have here a situation in which the State is waging an undeclared war on its own people, and in such a situation the normal principle of non-intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state yields to the obligation for the United Nations to intervene in defence of the victims. As in Darfur so in Zimbabwe. (The only difference between the two is perhaps in the degree of openness of the violence used by the state against its citizens).
So when the Mugabe's storm troops systematically and on a grand scale demolish the homes of the urban poor who have no alternative shelter, and when they destroy the only means of financial support of the vast informal sector at a time when the economy is collapsing and famine is threatening - and when these acts are clearly unlawful even under Zimbabwean law - the case for the UN to intervene becomes overwhelming. In short the atrocities now being carried out by the Mugabe regime not only invite international censure, but require UN intervention in support of the victims.
How has the international community responded to these outrages? Leaving aside the responses of other governments, we bring you a sample of the world-wide chorus of condemnation from human rights organisations, churches, NGOs and UN officials:
"Amnesty International is appalled by this flagrant disregard for human rights. Forced evictions without due process, legal protection, redress and appropriate relocation measures, are completely contrary to international human rights." (Amnesty's Africa Programme director, Kolawole Olaniyan)
The United Nations
"We are seeing in the world, and Zimbabwe is a good example now, the creation of a new kind of apartheid where the rich and the poor are being segregated." (Miloon Kothari, UN special envoy on housing)
"The evictions in Zimbabwe may constitute a crime against humanity since the Statute of the International Criminal Court clearly prohibits the deportation and forcible transfer of population under certain conditions that appear to be present in the Zimbabwean operation." (UN Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions)
"Effectively, the state is at the forefront of undermining the rule of law … This move by the government encourages anarchy." (Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director, Arnold Tsunga)
"The Crisis Coalition strongly condemns this uncivilised behaviour and urges the government to halt its illegal attacks against the unemployed, women and the poor." (Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition - an alliance of NGOs fighting for human rights and good governance in Zimbabwe)
"It's social engineering with sledgehammers." (Oskar Wermter, Jesuit priest in Harare)
"This is genocide policy. It's a strategy of letting the urban population die by leaving them to starve in the bush rather than facing the bullets of Mugabe's goons. It doesn't cost them a cent." (Dr Steve Kibble of the Catholic Institute for International Relations)The action was "cruel" and "inhumane". The "innate human dignity … given to us by the Creator himself … was gravely violated by the ruthless manner in which the operation was conducted (which) cries out for vengeance to God." (Pastoral Letter from the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference)
"Our members who are doing pastoral work in the areas targeted by this operation have reported that the police were very provocative, offensive and unsympathetic to the feelings of the people … We call on this government to engage in a war against poverty and not against the poor." (Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference)
The UN has called on the Mugabe regime to halt its campaign of mass evictions which is "a clear violation of human rights", and the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has despatched the executive director of the Nairobi-based UN-Habitat, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, on an urgent mission to asses the situation at first hand.
Thabo Mbeki and some of the regional leaders have already demonstrated their determination, so far as the Mugabe regime is concerned, to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". However the broader international community has indicated it is not going to look the other way this time. Which makes it all the more important that Zimbabwean society should take upon itself urgently the tasks outlined above, namely monitoring the human rights abuses, exposing every instance of torture and standing with the victims in their desperate need.
For the peace-loving, law-abiding citizens of Zimbabwe who long to see the back of this corrupt regime, this is surely the best way to commemorate the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26.
*"Murambatsvina - An Overview and Summary" : 18 June 2005
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HARARE - Zimbabwe's judiciary is hostage to the
political establishment and cannot defend the rights of poor families evicted
from their homes by the government, according to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human
Zimbabwe lives 'won't be risked'
Responding to calls for a policy re-think, the international development secretary said the Home Office was keeping the situation under review.
It comes as the secretary general of the Commonwealth urged the UK to "take care" deporting refugees to Zimbabwe.
There were 95 Zimbabweans removed from the UK in the first quarter of 2005.
A further 116 are scheduled to be returned to the country.
In the UK, 46 Zimbabweans being held in immigration centres remain on hunger strike after the ban on deportation to their homeland was lifted in November last year.
One hunger striker, Zimbabwean opposition leader Crispen Kulinji, was due to be deported on Saturday but secured a last-minute reprieve - with the help of Labour MP Kate Hoey.
Mr Kulinji, 32, from Harare, an organising secretary and election co-ordinator for the Movement for Democratic Change opposition movement, is recovering from injuries he claims he sustained in jail in Zimbabwe.
He said he had been on hunger strike since Wednesday, adding: "We would rather live, but it is better to have a dignified death here than go back to face Mugabe."
Recent moves in Mugabe's Zimbabwe to demolish illegal buildings - which the UN says has left 275,000 people homeless - have drawn objections from the Foreign Office.
In light of the events, the Conservative and Lib Dem parties - as well as Labour MPs - have called for a re-think of government policy.
The Right Reverend Colin Fletcher, Bishop of Dorchester, has also called for a "compassionate" response from ministers.
"The current situation demands a compassionate response from our government and urgent reassessment of their policy in relation to the return of failed asylum seekers," he said.
But Mr Benn told BBC News: "We have given asylum to a very large number of Zimbabweans here in Britain, and rightly so, because we are proud of our commitment to the 1951 convention [UN Convention on Refugees].
"But in the end the asylum system has to make a judgement in individual cases as to whether people are entitled to the protection of the convention or not.
"We would never send anyone back if we thought their lives were in danger.
"And the Home Office has made it very clear we are keeping the situation under close review and that is right and proper."
However, Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon questioned whether failed asylum seekers should be returned to Zimbabwe.
"That is an issue which the British government has got to face," he said.
"But it is clear by what you see on your television screens, hear on your radio, the problems are there.
"And it should be looked at in the light of well, after all, you only deport people or send then back to their country if they are refugees if you believe they are not in danger or not threatened in any way."