The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) calls upon the government to uphold human rights and observe the rule of law during the COVID-19 national lockdown. This follows the issuance of Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 to implement an immediate national lockdown running from 5 January to 4 February 2021 to prevent and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Forum takes cognisance of the increase in deaths and confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, which total 15265 confirmed cases and 380 deaths as at 3 January 2021. It is pursuant to these saddening statistics and a potential threat to the health and safety of citizens that the Forum welcomes the announcement of the national lockdown. However, the Forum is highly concerned with the likely possibility of human rights abuses being perpetrated by State security forces in the enforcement of the national lockdown regulations. Our concerns stem from experiences of the first national lockdown that ran from 30 March to November 2020 where 932 cases of organised violence and torture were documented by the Forum, most of which were carried out by State security forces. The recorded cases included incidents of abductions, assaults and torture, arbitrary arrests and attacks against journalists. The use of disproportionate force against civilians and cases of solicited bribes were also observed during this period.
The Forum also remains conscious of the effects of a national lockdown in a country with 74% of the labour force earning their living through the informal economy, widespread poverty and a lack of basic amenities such as water and health services. The blanket restriction on informal trading and private transport operators in the country effected through Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020, has seen the majority of Zimbabweans failing to earn a sufficient living since 30 March 2020.
In light of the challenges associated with the enforcement of a national lockdown, the Forum urges the government to provide a meaningful monetary subsidy to vulnerable communities in the form of food aid packages, allowances and grants in addition to potable water to its citizens amidst the pandemic.
The Forum implores the Government to remain mindful of section 51 and 53 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to human dignity and freedom from torture respectively. The Forum calls upon the government to adopt a human rights-based approach and observe the constitutionally guaranteed rights in its deployment of state security agents to enforce the lockdown. The Forum, also reminds State security agents to take note of the International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement, which stipulate, among other things, that non-violent conflict resolution ought to be employed before the use of force, that force shall be used only when strictly necessary and that force shall be used only in enforcement of the law.
The Forum, therefore, calls for the following;
- That State security agents adhere to the Constitution and the law as provided in section 208 of the Constitution during the national lockdown, which stipulates the conduct of members of security services.
- That the government provides sufficient food and clean and potable water for all, as provided in section 77 of the Constitution.
- That the government investigates cases of organised violence and torture relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and bring all perpetrators to book.