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Zimbabwe: Use of Military, Police Against Civil Society Criticized

(Mar. 28, 2011) On March 23, 2011, the Zimbabwean human rights group Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition issued a statement denouncing the use of that country's army and police forces to intimidate opposition figures. Dewa Muvhinga of the Coalition attributed the government moves to the fact that elections are scheduled for later this year. “We are bracing ourselves for a difficult time in Zimbabwe. Every time there are elections there is violence. … Those we expect to uphold the rule of law are not independent, they are partisan to [President Robert] Mugabe,” he stated. (Zimbabwe Rights Groups Accuse Mugabe of Using Army, Police to Intimidate, AFP (Mar. 24, 2011), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201103241477.1_f92500510ef97f32.)

Muvhinga pointed to the recent arrest of a Cabinet minister, members of the legislature, and journalists as moves by the military and the police designed to repress civil society. The Energy Minister, Elton Mangoma, has been charged with abuse of office, and the Supreme Court nullified the election of the parliamentary speaker. A series of arrests of journalists and lawmakers began in December 2010. (Id.)

The views of the Coalition have been echoed by the international organization Human Rights Watch. Tiseke Kasambala, a researcher with that organization, has said that the human rights situation in the country is deteriorating rapidly as “Mugabe continues to use the state machinery to violate people's rights.” (Id.) Human Rights Watch has also denounced the government for wider political violence, torture, and killings. (Press Release, Zimbabwe: No Justice for RampantKillings, Torture: Impunity Fuels New Abuses, Imperils Future Elections, Human Rights Watch website (Mar. 8, 2011).)

Zimbabwe has been ruled for the last two years by Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in a coalition government that was formed in an effort to end internal violence. Tsvangirai has called for elections to be held, as a step in following the plan for the country that had been developed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional organization with 15 member nations. (Id.; SADC website, (last visited Mar. 28, 2011).) An upcoming SADC meeting is planned to discuss Zimbabwe.

On the subject of the viability of elections, Mugabe has said, “[t]he current political environment is not conducive for a free, fair and credible elections [sic].” (AFP, supra.) On that point, though presumably not on the reasons for it, Human Rights Watch is in essential agreement. Daniel Bekele, the Africa director for the organization, has said, “Zimbabwe will not be able to hold free, fair, and credible elections until it restores the rule of law and ends impunity for serious human rights abuses. … The government needs to end political violence and show that it can deliver justice.” (Human Rights Watch website, supra.)