HARARE – Fresh from misleading the United Nations (UN) General Assembly that Zimbabwe was peacefully resolving internal disputes, the government faced another important test in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UNHRC UPR) last week where it literally whitewashed its bloated and deplorable human rights record.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa led a large delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, including not only members of the Executive but also from the Judiciary and pro-government NGOs, and they successfully pulled wool over the eyes of the UNHRC, which is supposed to be the most prestigious panel in the UN system designed to examine global human rights.
Mnangagwa had his propaganda up and ready, claiming Zimbabwe had made progress in the implementation of the 130 recommendations that it accepted from UN member states in 2012, a claim that is patently false if the UNHRC had bothered to check.
While Mnangagwa in his report claimed the adoption of the new Constitution in 2013 was a “milestone” that Zimbabwe achieved since the last review, almost all domestic laws are yet to be aligned to the new charter.
While last week’s review will serve as the basis of the latest examination under that body’s UPR and lays out an unmatched occasion to hold the human rights actions of all member states open for public scrutiny and censure, it has been found to be a fallacious undertaking seized by countries seeking to shield themselves from condemnation — a shortcoming that is also synonymous with the broader human rights efforts in the UN system.
As the government pushed its core message that it is taking elaborate efforts to promote human rights, a new report by respected New York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, accused the government of ratcheting up political violence dramatically this year, with record levels of assault, abduction and torture of ordinary Zimbabweans opposing President Robert Mugabe’s unbridled 36-year misrule.
The UNHRC, created in 2006 to replace the largely impotent and captured UN Commission on Human Rights — a body that dismally failed to hold governments accountable for violating basic human rights and fundamental freedoms — the UNHRC is no better, strictly curtailing contributions by NGOs; and letting rogue States such as Zimbabwe to use points of order and other strategies to scare foreign NGOs from making statements or to strike their comments from the record.
This has put a stain on the UPR and sprang many preposterous and ludicrous human rights reviews such as the latest Zimbabwe evaluation.
Several egregious human rights reports on Zimbabwe have been tabled but it has walked scot-free, with the UNHRC refusing to take any measure that stops the Mugabe regime from committing further rights abuses.
Just to highlight the slow response of the UNHRC, it had to take 400 000 killings in the Syrian civil war for the UNHRC to act.
And last month, after relentless prodding, the UN ejected Russia from the UNHRC, a magnificent but long delayed triumph against an outlaw country.
This is the fate that must befall Zimbabwe, sooner rather than later. The ejection of Russia shows that the nations of the world can reject gross abusers if they so choose.
The government here has repeatedly fronted NGO groups to hijack the UN database and turn it into a propaganda sheet for the Mugabe regime, committing fraud on a massive scale against the UN’s human rights system by using endorsements by a very large number of questionable groups.
The UNHRC must now act to stop the Mugabe regime’s deepening rights abuses. For the record, the regime has used emergency measures to outlaw public protests enshrined in the Constitution.
Just this weekend, an opposition rally okayed by the High Court was ruthlessly quashed by armed police in the mining town of Zvishavane, almost 300km south of Harare, and several opposition supporters ruthlessly bashed.
It is time to admit comradely cajolery, the favoured approach of South Africa, has ceased to function. Some people believe Mugabe is beyond the reach of reasoned argument; consumed with his founding father status, he has forgotten that leadership is a responsibility, not a right.
The freezing of IMF-World Bank support and other such sanctions over the past decade has not amended his conduct; stronger measures, like cutting South Africa’s electricity supply subsidies, would hurt ordinary Zimbabweans most.
There is no safe possibility of a “people’s power” mutiny while the army and police remain firmly in Mugabe’s pocket.
Outside military intervention is not a viable recourse.
In London, the government there, Zimbabwe’s former colonial power, expresses “extreme concern”, feebly demanding that the nonagenarian uphold democratic rights; and the UN woefully wrings its hands.
Mugabe has misled the UN about the real situation here and he will again now.
Turning 93 next February, he scorns such impotence and through his unchecked excesses makes all the world his victim.
The report tabled by Mnangagwa gave undue attention and credit to the actions of the Mugabe administration, and claimed it was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights.
Yet Mugabe is not interested at all in maintaining peace in Zimbabwe in the face of a challenge to his long-rule or reversing the woeful drop in living standards that has made paupers of his people. He seems obsessed only with personal power and to that end will do all he can, to perpetuate his Lear-like misrule.
Although critiques by genuine NGOs were tabled for the UNHRC, they were overwhelmed by a large number of submissions by fraudulent “NGOs”, so-called community-based organisations and faith-based organisations, that are controlled by the Zimbabwe government.
It was a repeat of the propaganda pushed by Mugabe at the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly in September.
At a time he is intimidating the opposition back home, harassing senior judges such as Priscilla Chigumba who challenge his diktats; renewed rampages by thugs given free rein by his ruling Zanu PF; and refusing to engage domestic opposition over the deepening crisis, Mugabe told the UN General Assembly: “Leaders should exhaust all channels before resorting to forceful means of settling internal political disputes.”
His remarks betray a leader who is immune to irony as Zimbabwe’s atmosphere of repression is worsening by the day.
Curiously, several groups absurdly praised Zimbabwe’s alleged human rights accomplishments that hailed the country’s record on combating hunger and implementing social and economic rights.
But not everything went smoothly for the Zimbabwe delegation. It was taken to task about its refusal to ratify, domesticate and implement provisions of the UN Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Protocol — international legal instruments that were adopted to address the issue.
Zimbabwe has already accepted to ratify those outstanding human rights instruments under the UPR convened in 2011, and was at sixes and sevens on the disappearance of rights activist Itai Dzamara.
The UN must ensure Zimbabwe stops the illegal arrests and torture of opposition activists and rights defenders, stop the intimidation of the Judiciary, purge the rise of extra-legal militia and the terror they inflict across the country, and curtail gross disregard of the rule of law and gross corruption. The UN can stop Zimbabwe’s march towards a full-fledged dictatorship.