Advocacy letter

Call on the Government of Zimbabwe to Respect and Protect Citizens’ Right to Protest

Zimbabwe's government must respect and protect freedom of expression in the wake of a demonstrations about the country's untenable economic situation.

Ahead of protests planned for August 16 in Zimbabwe, a coalition of human rights organizations from across Southern Africa issued the following statement:

We, the undersigned organisations, are deeply concerned about the threats from various government and state security actors in Zimbabwe against people intending to participate in a demonstration planned for August 16 in Harare, which is being organized by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance).

The MDC Alliance has called on citizens to participate in the demonstration to protest the increasingly untenable economic situation in the country. The organizers have reportedly notified the police of their intended march in accordance with the Public Order and Security Act. However, reports indicate that senior government and state security officials, including the minister of home affairs, deputy minister of defence and war veterans, deputy minister of information, publicity, and broadcasting services, and the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, amongst others, have issued direct or veiled threats against both the organizers of and potential participants in the protest.

We urge the government and security forces to respect and protect citizens’ right to protest. Section 59 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states, “Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.” This is in line with various international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The government must therefore respect its own constitution and international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

Whilst we urge the protesters to act peacefully, we believe that there is no reason for the government and state security actors to anticipate that the protest will be violent, and therefore do not consider concerns about unrest to be a valid reason for prohibiting it. In the past, security forces, particularly the Zimbabwe National Army, have used excessive force and violence against protesters, leading to the deaths of unarmed civilians during the August 2018 and January 2019 protests. Another violent response to unarmed civilians marching to highlight their grievances would be unacceptable, and would put another dent in the country’s image at a time when the government is making frantic efforts to engage the international community both politically and economically.

We therefore present the following recommendations:

  1. The government of Zimbabwe must respect and promote its citizens’ rights to demonstrate and petition by allowing the protests to proceed on August 16.
  2. The police, army, and other state security agencies must refrain from violence, including the use of live ammunition against members of the public. We urge the Zimbabwe Republic Police, like any other professional police force, to guide and assist the protesters as they march through the streets of Harare or elsewhere in the country.
  3. The organisers and protesters must maintain peace throughout the protest, and ensure that all those who violate the law are reported to the police.

Signed and Endorsed by:

  1. Botswana Labour Migrants Association
  2. Gweru East Trust for Development
  3. Bloggers of Zambia
  4. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
  5. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  6. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
  7. Center for Young Leaders in Africa (CYLA)
  8. Youth and Society, Malawi

For further information and endorsement: Simphiwe Sidu, Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, [email protected]