A leading international human rights organisation has written to Robert Mugabe, urging the 89 year old to “correct the mistakes of the past” and prioritise the fundamental freedoms of the nation.
Human Rights Watch also called on the incoming administration to take “concrete steps to fulfill the country’s human rights obligations.” The international group identified key human rights priorities in its letter to Mugabe. This includes the need to reaffirm the rights provisions in the new constitution, ensure justice and accountability for past abuses, uphold activists’ rights to organize and operate freely without government harassment, and strengthen the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
“President Mugabe should publicly express his personal commitment to meeting Zimbabwe’s human rights obligations,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Kasambala added: “He should take responsibility for ensuring that rights are protected and that his officials uphold the law. The new administration needs to embrace a new, positive rights-respecting approach to governing.”
Human Rights Watch said that the new government has important legal obligations under African and international human rights treaties “that require it to respect the rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty and security of the person, as well as freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.” The group said it hoped these fundamental rights and freedoms are prioritised by the new administration.
Kasambala meanwhile acknowledged that despite the hotly disputed elections that have ushered in a new ZANU PF government, there is a growing acceptance of the result. She said that this is now an opportunity to put human rights protection high on the agenda.
“Mugabe as you know is not young anymore and we would like to hope that he plans to leave a legacy that is not marred by the over ten years of crisis we have seen in Zimbabwe and that he’d like to go out on top. We hope that he takes this opportunity to rights the wrongs of the past,” Kasambala told SW Radio Africa.
Human Rights Watch urged Mugabe and his administration to take the following steps:
• Reaffirm rights provisions in new constitution
Reaffirm the rights provisions in the new constitution, immediately amend or repeal laws as necessary to bring them in line with the new constitution, and ensure that government officials respect and protect these rights.
• Ensure accountability for past human rights abuses
Investigate cases of serious abuses, including during the 2008 elections, and prosecute those responsible in accordance with international standards. Those prosecuted should include members of the security forces implicated in killings, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment. Provide appropriate redress to victims of government abuses.
• Uphold Rights of interested Zimbabweans and Human Rights Defenders to organize and work in civic affairs
Send a clear public message to Zimbabwe’s people that the new administration will honor its human rights obligations and not interfere with the rights of nongovernmental organizations to freely operate across the country and without fear of harassment, intimidation or arbitrary arrest.
• Protect Media Freedom
Carry out policies that encourage, not weaken, freedom of the press. Ensure that the rights to freedom of association and assembly are fully realized, and promote free expression and communication. Amend or repeal repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
• Strengthen the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
Take immediate steps to ensure that the legislation establishing the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission complies fully with international standards. Ensure that the commission has adequate resources and has competent, independent and non-partisan secretariat staff. Expand the commission’s mandate to allow it to investigate human rights abuses in 2008.