BY SILAS NKALA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been challenged to stop the continued enforced disappearances of citizens.
The call was made by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) as the country joined the world to celebrate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
“Zimbabwean authorities must publicly denounce and desist from the practice of enforced disappearances. In addition, ZLHR demands that authorities swiftly respond and investigate all reports of enforced disappearances and prosecute the perpetrators,” ZLHR said in a statement.
“Significantly, the United Nations General Assembly has declared that systematic enforced disappearances amount to crimes against humanity. An element of enforced disappearances is that the responsible government refuses to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned.”
The rights lawyers added: “This effectively places the disappeared outside the protection of the law and renders them extremely vulnerable to gross human rights violations at the hands of their captors. The rights that are typically affected when a person is disappeared include the right to liberty and security of the person, the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to human dignity, the right to health and the right to life, when the disappeared person is murdered.”
The ZLHR said the adverse effects of an enforced disappearance extended to the victim’s relatives and friends in the form of psychological trauma and the deprivation of a source of economic livelihood, where the disappeared person was the breadwinner of the family.
“In Zimbabwe, enforced disappearances remain a scourge and a constant threat to the peaceful existence of certain groups of people in the country. In the recent past, the victims of enforced disappearances have included usually human rights defenders and members of opposition political parties. The victims have been subjected to inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors and some of the victims remain missing to this day,” the rights lawyers said.
“The coronavirus pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for people to search for disappeared persons and for authorities to effectively investigate reports of enforced disappearances. However, these challenges do not relieve the authorities of their obligation to investigate these disappearances.”
International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is observed every year on August 30 in order to draw attention to the detestable practice of enforced disappearances by governments all over the world.
An enforced disappearance can be defined as any arrest, abduction or detention against one’s will that is orchestrated by or endorsed by a government official or officials, its representatives or its supporters.
Enforced disappearances in Zimbabwe date back to the Gukurahundi era between 1982 and 1987 when many citizens in Matabeleland and Midlands regions were made to disappear, with many missing up to now.
From 2000 to date, some members of the opposition and civic organisations also disappeared without trace.
Former MDC legislator David Coltart’s polling agent Patrick Nabanyama was abducted in the volatile June 2000 parliamentary elections and has never been seen since.
He was officially declared dead in August 2010.
Journalist-turned human rights activist Itai Dzamara was abducted near his Glen View, Harare, home in March 2015, and has not been heard from since.
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