By Professor Matodzi
Harare, July 30, 2013 – The period preceding Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections has been marred by a poisoned environment in which political activists and human rights defenders faced harassment and criminalisation of their activities,
The influential Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on Tuesday said it was worried that the harmonised elections were being held in an environment in which civil society organisations faced raids on their offices under the cover of search warrants, confiscation of documentation, unjustified threats and intimidation by senior law enforcement agents and criminalisation of their lawful activities.
Speaking at the launch of its pre-election report in Harare Tuesday, ZLHR executive director Irene Petras said CSOs had been targets of selective application of repressive and unreformed laws, malicious prosecutions and abuse through politicised institutions.
“Such violations – and their impact on a conducive electoral environment – cannot and must not be ignored, as their effect has been to disrupt ordinary functioning of the affected organisations as they struggle to defend themselves at the expense of delivering on their critical mandate within a justice delivery system that is stacked against them and that does not inspire public confidence in its operations, independence, professionalism and effectiveness,” said Petras, whose organisation has offered legal defence to several human right defenders.
ZLHR said insufficient reforms had been undertaken during the life of the coalition government at the level of the secretariat of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and within the office of the Registrar-General (RG) to ensure institutional and individual independence, effectiveness, efficiency, and public confidence.
“It is common cause that both of these institutions, in the past, have presided over election-related processes that have been highly controversial and contested. As such, there is need to de-personalise the debate and encourage those involved to see that, without transparency in operations, and a public process of reform and institutional strengthening, there is limited to no expectation that public confidence can be easily or quickly restored in such institutions. Those at the helm of these state organs must therefore not expect that their mere presence thereat will be a panacea to our troubles,” ZLHR said in its pre-election statement.
The human rights organisation which has been honoured for defending the rights of downtrodden Zimbabweans expressed concern over the unwillingness by Tobaiwa Mudede, the Registrar-General of Voters and ZEC to comply with the law and allow access to the final voters’ roll and indicated that this undermined the credibility of the electoral process.
“On the eve of elections, interested parties have not seen a consolidated voters’ roll, in violation of the law. It is no secret that the integrity of the voters’ roll has been in dispute for a very long period of time. Failure of ZEC and the R-G’s office to address these concerns, and even worsen the situation by not releasing the roll in good time as is required by law, has only served to worsen the situation and reinforce public fears that something is being hidden and/or manipulation and fraud may be at play,” ZLHR said.
The extreme delays in publishing a definitive list of polling stations and the perceived unwillingness to provide numbers and details of those approved to vote by Special and Postal Vote contributed to concerns around transparency, accountability and willingness and ability to facilitate a credible, free and fair election, ZLHR said.
Although the human rights organisation said it sympathises with the electoral management body in the face of the hurdles it encountered and the pressure to deliver a credible poll in the face of an imposed fast-track date, limited resources and personnel, many of these challenges, taken separately or together, have not been outside ZEC’s control to remedy.