Ahead of referendum, UN experts call on Zimbabwe to respect fundamental rights

February 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm Leave a comment

http://www.un.org/

27 February 2013 – Zimbabwe must ensure that fundamental rights such as
freedom of expression and association are respected in the run up to its
constitutional referendum, United Nations experts said today, following
reports of civil society organizations being subjected to searches,
harassment and intimidation by the police.

“In the context of proposed constitutional reforms and the elections, it is
disturbing and shocking to learn that civil society organizations that have
been operating for years, including election monitoring groups which aim to
promote free and fair elections, have been searched by police,” said the
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of
association, Maina Kiai.

“Search procedures must not be applied selectively, and the right to privacy
needs to be respected. Otherwise, the independence of associations and the
safety of their members will be seriously at risk.”

For several months, a number of civil society organizations have been
subjected to searches by police. During these searches, several items,
including files with donor information, annual reports and human rights
documents, have been seized. In addition, many civil society organizations,
particularly those working on human rights issues, have reported being
subjected to physical violence and arbitrary arrests.

“With the referendum less than two weeks away, human rights defenders who
promote participation have a critical role to play,” said the Special
Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.
“They must be protected by the Government and attempts to stifle criticism
must end.”

The experts also voiced their concern at the police’s use of force against,
and arrests of, peaceful protesters taking part, and handing out roses and
teddy bears, in an annual Valentine’s Day protest outside Parliament in
Harare on 14 February.

“The ongoing practice of arrests against the activists could seriously
hamper the right to freedom of expression,” said the Special Rapporteur on
the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. “The
Zimbabwean authorities must ensure that such measures are applied in
accordance with international standards and everyone is guaranteed the right
to speak freely without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation.”

Since the official announcement of the date for the referendum – 16 March –
there has been an increase in attacks against civil society actors, and the
three Rapporteurs expressed serious alarm at this development.

“We urge the authorities to take all relevant measures to ensure everyone’s
voice is heard, in view of the recurrence of acts of intimidation and
harassment against those exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful
assembly and of association, which are essential components of democracy,”
they said, adding that they stand ready to provide assistance to contribute
to the protection of fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human
Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a
specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are
not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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