With the July 31 presidential election fast approaching, there are concerns that women human rights defenders face increasing attack from current Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his party, Zanu-PF. In the months leading up to the election, women working towards peace and justice have faced an alarming series of unlawful raids and arrests.
Among those facing persecution is human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, who was arrested in March after allegedly insulting police officers who were arresting her clients at the time. Another prominent human rights defender and director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko, was arrested after an alert was issued on state-owned television that she was on the run. Unaware that she was considered a fugitive, Mukoko voluntarily reported to Harare Central Police station.
In their report released earlier this month, Amnesty International details how police have targeted and intimidated human rights defenders in a calculated effort to disrupt election related human rights work. Tactics have included systematic raids on offices, arbitrary arrests and seizing equipment.
Our partners, Just Associates (JASS) Southern Africa, recently held a workshop in the country’s capital to help women human rights defenders strategize against the politically motivated attacks. The training gathered organizations such as Musasa (a national group addressing violence against women) and the Katswe Sisterhood (a group of young feminists) in an effort to increase safety by strengthening networks and alert systems for self-defense and protection
This year’s elections have been plagued by concerns that opposition parties like Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) will not be able to participate fully. The Mugabe-led government has not implemented media and security sector reforms stipulated in the 2008 pact between Zanu-PF and the MDC that enabled the current unity government.
The 2008 elections saw Mugabe carry out a widespread campaign of violence against opposition party supporters in an effort to intimidate voters. Included among the countless human rights abuses was the gang rape and torture of women throughout the country. Following a legal submission by AIDS-Free World, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service agreed in February to open a landmark investigation into the systematic human rights abuses perpetrated by Mugabe.
Walk the Talk, Amnesty International Report, July 12, 2013
Electing to Rape, AIDS-Free World Report, December 2009
Women activists strategize against backlash in Zimbabwe, JASS, June 13, 2013
Robert Mugabe fighting fit and talking peace ahead of election, The Guardian, July 12, 2013
Zimbabwe: Increased Intimidating Ahead of Next Week’s Elections, All Africa, July 24, 2013