Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter, 09/22/01

Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter, 09/22/01

Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter Date distributed (ymd): 010922 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Southern Africa Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+


This posting contains a press release and excerpts from an open letter from African Rights in London, concerning the crisis in Zimbabwe. The letter supports the efforts by leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to pressure Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on issues including human rights and political violence, but warns that continued involvement from regional leaders, including engagement with Zimbabwean civil society and human rights groups, is required.

The African Rights letter follows the most recent summit of a SADC delegation of heads of state with President Mugabe and his political opponents in Harare, and the Nigerian-initiated Commonwealth meeting in Abuja at which Zimbabwe joined in a declaration addressing land reform and the rule of law.

The text of the Abuja agreement, as well as the full text of the African rights letter, are included in the web archive version of this posting at:

For related current news, see: and

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African Rights

The Crisis in Zimbabwe

An Open Letter to President Bakili Muluzi, Chairman of SADC

September 17, 2001

For further information contact African Rights at: (+ 44 207) 947 3276 or by fax (+ 44 207) 947 3201 or by e-mail:

Zimbabwe remains hostage to the demands of so-called war veterans and the leaders who direct their activities, despite recent initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis. African Rights has written to the chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to express support for the SADC leaders' efforts to halt Zimbabwe's political and economic decline. In the letter we highlight our remaining concerns.

During meetings in Harare last week, the SADC heads of state acknowledged many of the problems facing Zimbabwean people, resisting state propaganda claiming that a legitimate struggle for black economic liberation is taking place. The leaders' collective decision to discuss human rights violations as well as the farm invasions and the issue of land redistribution was significant and welcome.

The forthright approach of the SADC task force in Harare is to be commended, but African Rights believes that it must be followed up immediately with a more comprehensive initiative to understand and respond to the roots of the crisis. Based upon previous research and monitoring of human rights and justice issues in Zimbabwe, African Rights points out that the events in Zimbabwe are the consequence of a political strategy. Although the need for land redistribution has an origin and a life beyond its manipulation by the ruling party, it has been used in this instance as a smokescreen for political violence aimed at eradicating organized opposition and dissent. Unless the SADC leaders confront this reality directly and consistently, their initiatives aimed at promoting stability will fail to have impact.

African Rights notes with regret the omission of important Zimbabwean civic organizations and human rights groups from the agenda of the SADC leaders during their meetings in Harare. If the proposed SADC ministerial task force is to grasp, and find ways to address, the full dimensions of the crisis in Zimbabwe, it must engage fully with this sector of Zimbabwean society. Zimbabwe has a vibrant civil society with a wide variety of groups committed to, and capable of representing, the interests of citizens who lack a voice in the political arena. SADC representatives should urgently meet with the members of the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and the Zimbabwe Crisis Committee, amongst others, and should take their assessments into account as they try to determine the best way forward.

Looking to the immediate future, the SADC, and the international community as a whole, must find ways to convince the Government of Zimbabwe to establish a series of mechanisms aimed at preventing human rights violations and securing political stability.

African Rights has listed in its ten-page letter some of the cases of torture described by victims of election-related violence in the parliamentary ballot in 2000. Overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence during this period were organised gangs of Zanu (PF) supporters, often with links to high-ranking members of the party. Their activities continue, as Zanu (PF) thuggery and intimidation during elections, by- elections and election challenges over the past 18 months has shown. The most recent example was the violence surrounding the Bulawayo mayoral elections last week.

The Zanu (PF) perpetrators of political violence during the elections have remained above the law, in part because of a presidential amnesty. As long as the individuals responsible for torture are given impunity by the state, there can be little hope of reining them in. African Rights point out the need for an inquiry into the political violence since 2000 and for a tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In recognition of the fact that presidential elections are imminent, African Rights calls for international election monitors to be present in the country from now until the ballot and in the sensitive period which will follow the result. Equally, without reform in the electoral machinery, allegations of state rigging, such as those made during the Bulawayo mayoral elections, will remain highly credible. The present system is not capable of preventing state manipulation of the results.

Zimbabwe cannot afford the disastrous consequences that an election marred by allegations of intimidation and violence would produce. The legitimacy of the current government is already weakened by popular awareness that it pursued victory by means of violence in 2000. Without a framework to secure peaceful presidential elections, the lives of more Zimbabweans will be lost or devastated and the economy and stability of the country and the region will become even more perilous.


The Crisis in Zimbabwe

An Open Letter to President Bakili Muluzi, Chairman of SADC

President Bakili Muluzi The Office of the President and the Cabinet Central Government Office Private Bag Lilongwe 301, Malawi

17 September 2001

Dear President Muluzi

African Rights is an organization which carries out research on human rights, conflict and justice, and provides a platform for Africans who are the victims of injustice and oppression. We are writing to you, as chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to voice support for the work of the task force recently set up to address the situation in Zimbabwe and to highlight the issues we believe it should now focus upon.

The meeting of six Southern African heads of state in Harare on 10-11 September demonstrated a commitment to the search for solutions in this troubled nation, which we welcome. In the aftermath of this visit, we urge you, as SADC chairman, to monitor the situation closely and take concrete steps to improve the prospects for an end to all violence, tackling the roots of the political crisis which is shaking the country. We are concerned that, within days of its signature, the Government of Zimbabwe stood in violation of the terms of the Abuja agreement reached with the Commonwealth delegation in Nigeria on 6 September. It is apparent that neither the Abuja agreement nor the SADC mission will have a significant impact unless, in the weeks to come, the proposed SADC ministerial task force addresses the full dimensions of the crisis in Zimbabwe which, as all concerned are aware, extend beyond the land invasions.

There is a pressing need to seek solutions for the rural poor in Zimbabwe and to introduce a comprehensive land redistribution programme. The agreement reached by the Commonwealth delegation in Abuja may yet offer an opportunity to launch such a programme. However, it would be mistaken, in the present environment, to imagine that solutions can be found by this route alone. Agreements on the land issue might provide some relief for white farmers; they may even help to quell violence in some rural areas. They will not, however, provide security for the people of Zimbabwe and guarantee their democratic rights in the months to come, even if linked to commitments to restore the rule of law.

Attacks upon farmworkers and white farmers cannot be divorced from the state-sponsored onslaught against members and suspected supporters of opposition parties, journalists and members of the judiciary. The determination to eradicate the political opposition, which began around the parliamentary elections and is being sustained in the run up to presidential elections, is at the centre of the crisis. Unless SADC leaders confront this fact directly and consistently, their efforts will achieve little and will prove a huge disappointment to the people of Zimbabwe_an outcome that you will of course wish to avoid.

The SADC leaders have already proven their determination to find answers to the crisis, which has had an effect beyond Zimbabwe's borders. It is clear that they, above all, are conscious of the urgency. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and other countries are making contingency plans for refugees, a burden they can ill afford. However, it is important that, as you seek to ensure the restoration of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, your energies are not deflected by the nationalist rhetoric in which President Robert Mugabe has dressed his struggle for political survival.

All Africans should support efforts to redress the wrongs of colonialism and President Mugabe was once regarded as a liberation hero by many Africans. But he no longer stands for the rights of all black Zimbabweans. He now represents the interests of a minority who are beneficiaries of the short-sighted and destructive policies he has pursued in recent years. Black Zimbabweans, like their white counterparts, are suffering from misrule and denial of freedom under his regime. Without the continued intervention of African leaders, in collaboration with the wider international community, the lives and livelihoods of many more people inside the country will be destroyed. The consequences will not only be suffered by Zimbabwe, but threaten to undermine positive moves towards the rehabilitation of the continent as a whole.

African Rights has published several reports on justice issues in Zimbabwe, including examining the need and potential for land reform. We would like to bring to your attention our assessment of the nature of the problems currently afflicting the nation, and suggestions for the way forward. Our understanding is based upon past interviews with victims of human rights abuses in rural and urban areas, as well as observations of events in the past year. In particular, our findings in the run up to parliamentary elections in 2000 gave us insight into the reasons for Zimbabwe's downslide into insecurity and economic ruin and the prerequisites for establishing stability and growth. We write to you as fellow Africans with deep concern for all the people of Zimbabwe whose civil and political rights, as well as their social and economic rights, are being crushed. What is at stake now is not simply the right of black Zimbabweans to reclaim the land they were robbed of under colonial rule, but the right of all Zimbabweans to a life without fear and hunger and their entitlement to the protection of the state.

The background to the volatile climate now prevailing in Zimbabwe is worth reflecting upon. Although political discontent has been expressed in popular protest since 1997, not so long ago Zimbabwe was an economic and political asset to the SADC region. In 1996, African Rights found many encouraging signs when it conducted research into the issue of access to justice for ordinary people in Zimbabwe. Since then the situation has deteriorated rapidly.

In June 1999, African Rights published a paper which scrutinised the government's handling of the "food riots" of the previous year; its relationship with the independent media; and its approach to land resettlement and constitutional reform, among other questions. It concluded that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) sought to monopolise power at the expense of accountability and good governance. It drew attention to the government's disregard for the rule of law and for international human rights standards in its attempts to silence dissenting voices from the political arena, civic organizations and the press.

As parliamentary elections approached, the lengths to which the government was prepared to go to ensure victory were made apparent. In a report in March 2000, African Rights documented early incidents of political violence in the pre-election period. Overwhelmingly, it found members of Zanu (PF) to be the aggressors ... So began a state-sponsored campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at securing a Zanu (PF) victory. This campaign continues today. All the indications are that there will be no respite, and that the violence could intensify as the presidential elections draw nearer. ...

Although only a small minority of the population is white, Zanu (PF) found it convenient to blame them for engineering its referendum defeat, citing their objection to a controversial land clause in the draft constitution. The party then openly encouraged and covertly organized the invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms arguing that whites were blocking land redistribution and therefore the use of force to "reclaim" the land was inevitable. It allocated Z$20 million to the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), which it declared was to "spearhead" its election campaign. This money was spent on orchestrating the farm invasions and political violence.

Under the smokescreen of asserting the rights of black Zimbabweans to the land stolen from them under colonialism, Zanu (PF) presented the land invasions as a popular uprising against white domination. There was and remains a fundamental need to restore land rights to black Zimbabweans and to reverse the plight of the rural poor - still eking out a living in over-farmed communal areas, in part because of Zanu (PF)'s own policy failures. But the land invasions were not directed at these aims. Instead, they were the key element of the ruling party's strategy to remain in power, providing a context in which human rights abuses could be perpetrated with impunity. This tactic paralleled the way in which the "dissident problem" in Matabeleland in the 1980s was used as an alibi for a murderous offensive intended to crush Zanu (PF)'s earlier rival, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) and its supporters.

Zanu (PF) has manipulated the land issue to provide a pretext for political violence, seeking to justify abuses against white farmers and black farm workers by presenting them as the closing chapter of the liberation struggle, supposedly being fought by war veterans. It soon became apparent that the invaders were not acting independently, and that many were not even war veterans, but either hired thugs or youths hoping to benefit economically. ...

The invasions had a practical purpose as well as an ideological one, forming the main arteries for the spread of terror tactics. The invaders were the basis for rudimentary militia groups created to target opposition members and bring fear to the same rural communities they purported to be representing. ...

It is a matter of public knowledge in Zimbabwe that the Zanu (PF) leadership incited and condoned the politically-motivated violence which occurred in the run up to the elections and which continues to injure Zimbabweans. ... But the party's responsibility extends further than this. ... War veterans and the youth form the frontline of the campaign, but behind them are operatives of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) and members of the police and army.


As Africans who know the cost of dictatorship, we ought to recognize the signs immediately. But acknowledgement of the nature of the crisis in Zimbabwe has come rather late in Africa. This is largely because of the shrewd propaganda President Mugabe employs. His anti-western rhetoric has appealed to some Africans because many nations are still trapped in the damaging legacy of the colonial era. We may believe we have a sound case for economic restitution. But articulating Africa's case for reparations requires moral leadership and political credibility, neither of which President Mugabe retains. The chaotic and brutal manner in which the Government of Zimbabwe has handled the land issue can only undermine the arguments that Africa is deserving of compensation and assistance to overcome the ills of the past. He threatens to discredit new visions which might assist Africans to engage in the global arena as equals, such as the New African Initiative. President Mugabe's willingness to mistreat and abuse Zimbabwean citizens, black and white, ostensibly in the name of an assertion of black interests, can only debase the legitimate arguments at stake.


It is unfortunate that the SADC mission to Harare was unable to encompass meetings with many of the civic and human rights groups who are at the forefront of efforts to promote the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We suggest that SADC task force representatives consult with them now in order to determine the best way forward.


In the aftermath of its visit to Harare, SADC leaders should aim to convince President Mugabe and the Zanu (PF) government to put in place the mechanisms necessary for a free and fair vote in the forthcoming presidential elections, including agreeing to the presence of international monitors. It is critically important to allow international monitors to be present in the country at the earliest possible date, to enable them to build up an informed picture of the situation. Equally, there is a need to bring to account the perpetrators of political violence during the 2000 parliamentary elections; at a minimum an independent inquiry into the violence of this period and in all the elections and by-elections since should be established. This would send a message that murders, assaults and torture will not be tolerated in the presidential ballot. These initiatives could be a starting place for President Mugabe to show respect for democratic principles and to avert the slide of the country into an even deeper crisis than the needless tragedy we are now witnessing.

Any future instances of political violence, including attacks on farmers and farmworkers, should be met by direct measures which recognize the responsibility of the President and members of his government. There must be constant reminders to those engaged in the land invasions and acts of brutality upon opposition supporters that the meaning of liberation is not to repeat many of the sins of colonial forefathers but to find ways to move Zimbabwe forward towards realizing its own potential.


Yours sincerely,

Rakiya Omaar Director


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 10:52:43 -0500 Subject: Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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