Statement from the RFK Center
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) questions the results of Zimbabwe’s July 31 election and the legitimacy of the newly elected government. On August 3, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced that Robert Mugabe had secured the presidency for a seventh consecutive term by winning 61 percent of the vote and that ZANU-PF had garnered a two-thirds majority in Parliament. According to information gathered by the RFK Center, the environment leading up to the vote was characterized by an unequal playing field, replete with widespread breaches of domestic and international law, and widespread irregularities continued on Election Day.
During a visit to Zimbabwe in March 2013, an RFK Center delegation documented the concerns of citizens, mainly pertaining to human rights violations against individuals and civil society organizations participating in the electoral process, including systematic intimidation, threats, violence, and arbitrary detention of activists, and violations of freedom of expression and access to information. Following the publication of the RFK Center report, A Promise in Peril: How Widespread Rights Violations Undermine Zimbabwe’s Elections, we continued to receive reports of irregularities throughout the electoral process.
On July 31, Zimbabweans cast their ballots in a highly anticipated election. According to figures provided by the ZEC, nearly twice as many citizens turned out to vote in this election compared to 2008. The election was characterized by largely peaceful proceedings with few reported instances of violence; certainly a welcome contrast to 2008, when over 200 people were killed and thousands forced to flee their homes to escape the political chaos that had engulfed the country.
However, reports of electoral fraud were pervasive, with opposition political parties and independent domestic observers echoing similar and consistent concerns. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a nongovernmental organization that organized the largest in-country observation team, noted in its initial report that the credibility of the election was “seriously compromised” due to a high number of documented irregularities.
The most serious irregularity is the alleged disenfranchisement of millions of eligible voters as a result of Zimbabwe’s deeply flawed electoral roll. In violation of domestic law and international standards, an electronic form of the register was not made available to the participating political parties or to civil society organizations prior to Election Day. An independent audit of a hard copy, which took place two weeks prior to the election, found that one million people on the register were deceased; 63 constituencies had more registered voters than inhabitants; and well over 100,000 people were over the age of 100, all in a country that has an average life expectancy of 52.
The voter registration process was also compromised and not undertaken in good faith by relevant state authorities. One civic group estimates that as many as two million potential voters under the age of 30 remained unregistered on Election Day. According to their own figures, the Registrar General’s Office (RG) registered a mere 8 percent of those in the 18–19 age group, while somehow managing to register 220 percent of those over the age of 80. Large numbers—with some estimates as high as 30 percent—of urban voters were also reportedly denied requisite opportunities to register, whereas 99.97 percent of rural voters, located in traditional ZANU-PF strongholds, were allowed to do so. The RG also disenfranchised upwards of four million Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora by not allowing them to participate in the election, despite a May 2013 ruling by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) that affirmed their right to vote, and further violated the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which stipulates that voting rights be extended to the Diaspora community.
On Election Day, ZESN observation teams noted that voters were turned away from 82 percent of urban polling stations, many of which are located in areas strongly supportive of the opposition. Overall, it is projected that between 700,000–1 million urban voters were systematically disenfranchised. Election observers also noted that far too many extra ballots—perhaps as many as two million—had been printed and so far remain unaccounted for. According to many local reports, high numbers of uniformed security personnel at polling stations intimidated those who still bear the scars, both physical and emotional, of past police brutality. An alarmingly high number of voters also required special “voting assistance,” particularly for a country like Zimbabwe which boasts Sub-Saharan Africa’s highest literacy rate. To date, reported irregularities and allegations of fraud by civil society organizations, opposition political parties, and domestic observers have been ignored by the SADC and African Union missions and not addressed by the ZEC, despite its constitutional responsibility to do so.
While the people of Zimbabwe must be commended for the peaceful and dignified manner in which they went to the polls, there are serious outstanding concerns about the integrity of the electoral process that must be thoroughly investigated. The evidence shows that the will of the Zimbabwean people has been systematically suppressed and not reflected in the official election results. The high number of infringements on political rights during the electoral process, as well as the disenfranchisement of huge segments of the population on Election Day, undermines the legitimacy of the newly-elected Mugabe administration.
Given the violations of the rights of citizens to vote and to participate freely in public affairs—rights that are protected under Zimbabwean law and international human rights conventions ratified by Zimbabwe—the RFK Center strongly urges President Mugabe and ZANU-PF to work with the international community, civil society, and opposition political parties to address these concerns and reach an equitable solution that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people.
Contact: Meaghan Baron
Director of Communications