Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Zimbabwe's civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6, and its status changed from Partly Free to Not Free, due to numerous and repeated actions taken by the government to limit the ability of citizens to organize and to express themselves according to democratic norms.
Zimbabwe experienced considerable civil strife in 2001. The government took numerous actions restricting civil liberties and political rights, including proposing draconian curbs on press freedom. War veterans and government supporters continued to illegally occupy and disrupt opposition strongholds and white-owned land holdings, with the overt or complicit backing of the government. The independence of the judiciary came under attack with the pressured resignation and/or replacement of several senior judges and subsequent reverses in judicial rulings. Since 2000 human rights activists estimate that more than 200,000 people have been displaced. Zimbabwe faces a crucial presidential election in 2002, which pits long-time Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe against Morgan Tsvangirai, a popular trade union leader.
Parliamentary by-elections and municipal polls in 2001 emphasized growing political polarization. Economic decline, especially rising food costs, fueled growing opposition to Mugabe's rule. Zimbabwean armed forces remained engaged in an openended, expensive, and unpopular war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa), which nonetheless provides commercial and economic benefits for many of Mugabe's elite.
A September agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, between the government and international donors resulted in a commitment by donors to provide funding for land reform in exchange for actions by the government to ensure the safe and legal resolution of land occupation by squatters. It was unclear, however, whether the government would fulfill its obligations under the accord.
Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 after a violent guerrilla war against a white minority regime that had declared unilateral independence from Britain in 1965 in what was then Northern Rhodesia. For a number of years Zimbabwe was relatively stable, although from 1983 to 1987, the government suppressed resistance on the part of the country's largest minority group, the Ndebele, to dominance by Mugabe's majority ethnic-Shona group. Severe human rights abuses accompanied the struggle, which ended with an accord that brought Ndebele leaders into the government.
In recent years, Mugabe has turned against student groups, labor unions, homosexuals, and white landowners. Zimbabwe is now facing its worse crisis since achieving independence in 1980. The grip of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) on parliament has been weakened, but the party remains the predominant power through its control over the security forces and much of the economy. The party has dominated Zimbabwe since independence, enacting numerous laws and constitutional amendments to strengthen its hold on power. Mugabe, however, can no longer exercise unfettered power. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has experienced rapid growth under Tsvangirai. Trade unions have been at the forefront of opposition to Mugabe. A small group of independent media and civic groups struggle to promote transparency.
Corruption is rampant, and living standards are dropping precipitously. The government has imposed price controls and nationalized certain commercial enterprises. Despite the price controls, inflation raged at over 100 percent in 2001. The economy shrank by about five percent in 2000 and continued to worsen in 2001 given declines in revenues from agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. Recent flooding and droughts in the region have also had an adverse impact on the economy, especially on the livelihoods of the rural population. In addition, the country may be facing a food deficit in the coming year. Zimbabwe is currently in arrears to internal and external creditors, which has led to suspension of disbursements and credit lines by some creditors. This has aggravated the foreign exchange shortage within the country, making key imports such as fuel and electricity in short supply.
Zimbabweans do not yet have the right, in practice, to change their government democratically. President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF enjoy a wide set of incumbency advantages that reflect their ability and willingness to manipulate the political landscape as needed to ensure continued control. Since 1987, for example, there have been at least 15 amendments to the constitution by ZANU-PF, which have made the constitution less democratic and given the government, and particularly members of the executive, more power. These include the scrapping of the post of prime minister in favor of an executive president in 1987 and the abolishment of the upper chamber of parliament, the senate.
The upcoming presidential elections are proving highly controversial. The government has passed legislation limiting election observers. Opposition leader Tsvangirai and his followers have been physically attacked by pro ZANU-PF supporters at attempted campaign appearances. Legislation passed by parliament in the pre-election period includes the Public Order and Security Bill, which forbids criticism of the president, limits public assembly, and allows police to impose arbitrary curfews. Intelligence agencies are included among law enforcement agencies empowered to disperse "illegal" assemblies or arrest participants. Other legislation disenfranchised thousands of citizens living outside of the country.
The 2000 parliamentary elections, in which 57 members of the opposition MDC were elected out of a total of 150 seats, were deemed by observers to be fundamentally flawed prior to balloting. The MDC did not win a majority because of violence and intimidation against opposition candidates and their supporters, and a constitutional provision empowering President Mugabe and allied traditional leaders to appoint onefifth of parliament's members. Voter registration and identification procedures and tabulation of results were judged by independent observers in some constituencies to have been highly irregular. The heavily state-controlled or state-influenced media offered limited coverage of opposition viewpoints, and ZANU-PF used state resources heavily in its campaigning.
Mugabe issued pardons for thousands of people, most from ZANU-PF, for crimes committed during the election campaign. They included individuals guilty of assault, arson, kidnapping, torture, and attempted murder. According to the Human Rights Forum, more than 18,000 people had their rights violated, and more than 90 percent of the perpetrators were ZANU-PF supporters or government officials.
Judicial changes cast the previously clear independence of the judiciary in doubt. The government forced the resignation of and/or replaced five supreme or high court judges, including Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay. In the past the courts had repeatedly struck down or disputed government actions, most notably regarding illegal occupation of farms. In early December, however, the reconstituted Supreme Court ruled that the government's land-reform program was legal.
Security forces, particularly the Central Intelligence Organization, often ignore basic rights regarding detention, search, and seizure. Judicial rulings have at times been ignored by the government. In addition, the right of free assembly has been circumscribed in recent legislation. President Mugabe has also, on several occasions, invoked the Presidential Powers Act, which enabled him to bypass normal governmental review and oversight procedures.
There is an active although small nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector. Several groups, including the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organization (Zimrights), and the Legal Relief Fund focus on human rights. Prison conditions are harsh. Amnesty International has reported, for example, that Zimbabwean prisoners on death row sleep shackled and naked. The report argued that the dreadful conditions and psychological torment endured by death row inmates violated the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.
The government directly controls all broadcasting and several newspapers, including all dailies; it indirectly controls most others. The Public Order and Security bill provides for jail terms and fines for anyone who "undermines the authority of the president" or "engenders hostility" towards him. Additional draft legislation was under consideration which would have any journalist who "spreads rumors, falsehoods or causes alarm and despondency" face fines or two years in prison. All journalists must be Zimbabwean citizens. They would be "regulated" by a government commission, and if they cause offence, they could be banned. A small independent press is overshadowed by state-run media. The Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities Act has been used to force journalists to reveal their sources regarding reports on corruption before the courts and parliament.
In October 2000, the police raided the new independent Capitol Radio station and shut it down. The government has appointed a seven-member Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), which is responsible for planning and administering the broadcasting spectrum of Zimbabwe, including registering independent broadcast outlets, but it has yet to do so.
Women's rights enjoy extensive legal protection, but de facto societal discrimination persists. Women have few legal rights outside formal marriage. The supreme court issued a ruling relegating African women to the status of "junior males" within the family, declaring that African women who marry under customary law leave their original families behind and therefore cannot inherit property. Married women still cannot hold property jointly with their husbands. Especially in rural areas, access to education and employment for women is difficult. Domestic violence against women is common; a 1997 survey by a women's organization found that more than 80 percent of women had been subjected to some form of physical abuse. Zimbabwe has signed international human rights treaties, such as the Women's Convention.