HRW: SADC Must Confront Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Violations

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As the Africa Desk Chief for Atlas, her expertise spans conflict, politics, and history. She is also the Editor for The ModernInsurgent and has interests in yoga and meditation.

More From Me

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to “speak out against the Zimbabwean authorities intensified crackdown on the opposition and civil society organizations ahead of its summit in Harare,” referring to the 44th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government, to be held in the Zimbabwean capital on August 17th.

On June 16th, Zimbabwean authorities arrested 78 members of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) during a private celebration for the International Day of the African Child, held at the house of CCC interim leader, Jameson Timba. The group included a 17-year-old who was later released and a nursing mother who is still being held.

Charged with bigotry, the members were denied bail in absentia on June 27th, with a video of Zimbabwe’s National Army (ZNA) Commander, Anselem Sanyatwe, surfacing in early July in which he states to a crowd, “[The Ruling] Zanu PF will rule forever, whether you like it or not.”

What You Need to Know

In its statement released on July 8th, HRW claimed, “Since assuming power in a military coup in 2017, the administration of President Mnangagwa has committed serious human rights violations and shown a failure or unwillingness to institute lasting human rights reforms. Violence, intimidation, harassment, and repression aimed principally at opposition members and civil society activists have restricted civic and political space. Several activists have been abducted and tortured in the past year. The authorities have weaponized the criminal justice system against the ruling party’s political opponents. Opposition politicians have been held in prolonged pretrial detention or convicted on baseless, seemingly politically motivated charges.”

President Mnangagwa, former Vice President under Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), ousted Mugabe, the country’s leader since independence in 1980, in November 2017 and assumed power, continuing the rule of the ZANU-PF.

HRW’s Africa Advocacy Director, Allan Ngari outlined, “the government of President Mnangagwa is accelerating its crackdown against legitimate and peaceful activism ahead of the summit,” and urged that “the Southern African Development Community needs to engage with the authorities to take clear measures to ensure the enjoyment of basic freedoms of all Zimbabweans.”

According to the HRW 2023 country report for Zimbabwe, the human rights climate in the country “deteriorated” without the government taking steps to ensure justice or investigate reports of abductions, torture, arbitrary arrest, or other rights violations against dissidents, and repression of civil society and activism “continued unabated.”

With the SADC summit set to take place in the capital, with the heads of state of all 16 members attending and President Mnangagwa undertaking the bloc’s leadership, Farai Marapira, Director of Information for the ZANU-PF, warned in a statement on X on July 1st that, “As ZANU-PF, we are tried and tested. We are ready to deal with any subversiveness… Decidedly.”

In the statement, Marapira referenced several “staged events” that took place before international activities in the country. Referring to the 2022 death of Moreblessing Ali, a CCC activist who was killed and dismembered by ZANU-PF activist Pius Jamba, Marapira stated that “opposition activists led by Job Sikhala [a CCC leader] opportunistically tried to present this unfortunate domestic incident as a political case. Their spurious activities coincided with President Mnangagwa’s trip to Davos within the same month.”

Ending its statement, HRW pressed that the “SADC should use the August summit and President Mnangagwa’s chairmanship as an opportunity to encourage Zimbabwe to put in place key reforms to improve respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, in line with the SADC Treaty, which requires members to act according to these principles. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have reported numerous instances of the inability of the Zimbabwean judicial system to effectively provide remedies for alleged human rights violations.”

So, What Now?

It is likely that the Zimbabwean government under Mnangagwa will continue its policy of repression against opposition activists in the lead up to the SADC summit, with the likelihood of the 78 CCC activists being released before the summit equally low. The August Summit may trigger political unrest, although the historical brutality of the Zimbabwean security services is likely to act as a deterrent at the same time.