African human rights commission to consider WOZA case

via African human rights commission to consider WOZA case | SW Radio Africa by Alex Bell  November 20, 2013 

Africa’s main human rights commission has indicated it will hear arguments from lawyers representing pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), which is seeking to have the Zimbabwean authorities indicted against targeting the group with arrests, harassment and intimidation, and physical assaults.

WOZA filed an official communication at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights though its lawyers in April this year. In that communication, WOZA challenged the pattern of impunity they face in Zimbabwe, where a Supreme Court order guaranteeing their right to peaceful protests has been ignored. That order was passed down in 2010, but the group is still the target of arrests and assaults almost every time they gather for meetings or peaceful demonstrations.

Since the 2010 Supreme Court judgment, there have been 24 incidents of violations of WOZA’s right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as well as other rights protected by the African Charter. The WOZA communication documents these violations as part of a lengthy series of arrests, beatings, arbitrary detentions, and general physical harassment of WOZA members for over a decade.

The group has since received a formal notification from the Commission that their complaint was ‘accepted’, and that WOZA’s lawyers have 60 days to argue their case and the Commission’s jurisdiction in the matter. The Commission, in accepting the WOZA communication, has also requested that the Zimbabwean government respond to the rights violations included in the document.

WOZA leader Jenni Williams, who together with her co-leader Magodonga Mahlangu has been arrested over 50 times in WOZA’s ten year history, said on Wednesday that their communication “demonstrated Zimbabwe’s clear and systematic pattern of suppression of WOZA’s rights to engage in peaceful protest and public demonstrations.”

Williams told SW Radio Africa that she is pleased by the Commission’s decision, because all their domestic efforts to ensure their right to peaceful protest have been fruitless.

“Since we formed WOZA we have been fighting for the space to conduct peaceful protest, but police have continued to arrest, detain and beat us. When we won the case in the Supreme Court, our lawyers advised us that we had exhausted the domestic remedies and should consider taking the matter further,” Williams said.

She added: “We are encouraged that the Commission has agreed that there is merit to this, and we hope they will deal with it in a serious manner. The right to protest is such a vital right for democracy and we are praying the commissioners understand this and rule on it.”