ADDIS ABABA – Zimbabwe’s civil society groups have asked African leaders to step up pressure on Harare to stage free and fair polls.
In a petition presented to the 20th ordinary session of the assembly of heads of State and government of the African Union (AU) here, a coalition of over 300 Zimbabwean civil society groups urged the AU to use the summit to re-emphasise to the government the need to expedite the reform agenda before polls due in the second half of 2013.
“As the 20th AU ordinary summit draws to an end we are beaming with confidence that the AU will be able to remind the government of Zimbabwe to take corrective measures in ensuring that the forthcoming elections will be decisive, free and fair,” reads the statement.
“2013 is a definitive epoch which will also determine the democracy of Zimbabwe in future.”
The summit was officially opened yesterday with key speeches by outgoing chairperson of the AU, Benin President Boni Yayi, his successor new Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn and chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who noted that only 33 African countries have participated in the African Peer Review Mechanism.
Zimbabwe remains one of the 21 African countries who are yet to join this voluntary scheme to offer itself up for scrutiny by a panel of outside experts to improve transparency and democratic accountability.
“We have institutionalised good governance and accountability in many countries through the African Governance Architecture and with 33 countries having participated in the African peer review mechanism,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the summit that development and security on the African continent demand democracy, accountability, shared responsibilities and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
“The African Charter of Human and People’s Rights and the African Peer Review Mechanism — which is now 10 years old — show this continent’s commitment to protect people from abuse and deepen democratic governance,” Ban said.
Zimbabwe has slid off the agenda of the summit, with heads of State seized with resolving armed conflicts in Mali, the two Sudans and Central Africa Republic.
Nixon Nyikadzino, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition programmes manager, said their hope was that the AU would include Zimbabwe on the list of unstable countries and begin a robust process of ensuring that the next elections in Zimbabwe will be credible.
“This is the AU’s last and critical opportunity to put the Zimbabwe house in order by ensuring that requisite reforms are implemented in letter and spirit before the next election,” he said.
In their petition, Zimbabwe civil society groups reported to the leaders about the recent resurgence of a crackdown on civil society by State agents.
“We contend that the unashamed attacks by the state on civil society are indicative of a closing of democratic and electoral space and based on current form, all and any organisation involved in election related issues would be criminalised and attacked,” reads the petition.
“As civil society organisations, we have documented a well-calculated and intensified long running assault on our freedoms and activities including those of human rights defenders, human rights lawyers, arts and media practitioners, by both State and other non-State actors through slandering, intimidations, raids, arrests, prosecutions and persecution.
“We take such harassment, which recently culminated in the arrest, prosecution and detention of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights) director Okay Machisa, who is also the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition chairperson, as meant to scare and silence organisations that have been advancing genuine people’s development.
This development follows the earlier incarceration of another Zimrights employee, Leo Chamahwinya, on trumped up charges of forgery, fraud and spreading falsehoods.
Similar charges and actions have been taken against other organisations like the Yidez, and the Elections Resource Centre (ERC).”
“2013 is a watershed year for Zimbabwe where Zimbabweans are likely to hold two plebiscites in the form of a constitutional referendum and election,” the civil society groups said.
“We reiterate our position that Zimbabwe cannot hold elections without key reforms that are necessary in ensuring that citizens can express themselves freely and choose a leader of their choice without undue influence.”
Key demands tabled at AU Summit
– Expeditious finalisation of the constitution-making process according to the provisions of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) so that Zimbabweans can decide on the draft constitution presented by Copac in a referendum.
– Elimination of State-sponsored violence and the creation of a peaceful environment.
– Disbanding of all violence related militia groups such as Chipangano and Al Shabab.
– Immediate cessation of raids and harassment of civil society organisations and other pro-democracy movements.
– Immediate release of all political prisoners who are in prison on trumped up charges.
– Full implementation of electoral reforms which will pave way for the holding of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe and peaceful transfer of State power.
– A non-partisan security sector that prioritises the security and safety of citizens and restricts itself to the barracks.
– Transparency in the management of natural resources so that they benefit the majority of Zimbabweans.
The control of diamonds by the military elite breeds ground for funding conflict not only in Zimbabwe but also to our neighbours. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor