Zimbabwe Human Rights Defender Fears More Violence In Zimbabwe

Mukoko, who was one of the two recipients of the Women’s Courageous Awards, given by the US government,  is a victim of abduction by Zimbabwe’s state agents last year. She was detained and tortured by Zimbabwe’s secret agents for her work at the Zimbabwe Peace Project where she is director. Her organisation monitors and documents vilations of human rights that are politically motivated.
Mukoko said this in a speech, made available by the US State Department,  which she made at the presentation of the Awards. US Secretary for State, Hillary Clinton presented the awards to mark International Women’s Day.

Mukoko said she feared an upsurge in violence in the country, especially if there is going to be a constitutional referendum and an election immediately afterwards.

Zimbabwe is currently preparing for a constitutional reform process in the country in order to get public views and comments for a new constitution that will set the stage for new elections in the country to replace the transistional government put up with the help of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in February 2008.

“We are concerned that probably the citizens might not be able to express their views freely, because we are getting reports from, in particular, the rural areas where people are being threatened with unspecified action if they do not support a particular draft which is the Kariba draft. And that is a bit of a concern to us because then it means that people are not going to be able to say out their views freely, because we would want to come up with a constitution that is going to sort of protect and enshrine the rights of all, including the rights of women,” she said.

The Kariba draft was arrived at by the three political parties in the inclusive government, namely Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions. Zanu PF is campaigning for its supporters to adopt the draft as it is during the constitutional reform process while the two MDC insist that the people must be allowed to contribute to the draft before it is adopted as the country’s constitution.

“A lot of the human rights defenders have been threatened by unknown people, and we do not take those threats lightly. In particular, for myself, because I am a survivor of state-sponsored violence, I know what can happen if they do get to you. And we are worried that this is a tactic that is meant to intimidate and harass human rights defenders so that they are unable to do their work, in particular, around conscientizing communities to speak out in terms of what they would want to see in the constitution.”

Mukoko said her organisation set up in 2000, at the height of political violence, was particularly concerned by the plight of women, who were normally the chief victims of violence.

She also said she believed Zimbabweans must be given the right to contribute to the national healing process.

Turning to her detention by the Zimbabwe state, she said: ” I know that when I started going through the courts, it was a battle, because orders were flouted left, right and center. But when we eventually challenged and the case was referred to the constitutional court, they ruled in my favor, and they confirmed that my rights had been violated.

“And as a human rights defender, I am hoping that the Zimbabwean Government will learn from that mistake, that it is not proper for a citizen to be abducted, tortured, and kept incommunicado for weeks on end without being tried.”

Ambassador Melanne Verveer said the award was given out to courageous women leaders working to advance human rights around the globe.

“Some 15 years ago this year,  First Lady of the United States, Secretary Clinton delivered one of the historic speeches at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing. And at that conference, she struck a chord around the world with her statement that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights, not something separate from human rights, not a category that is somehow not completely inclusive, but inclusive in human rights. And as you will hear later this morning, issues that touch on – in a significant way – on rights specifically undermined, abridged, constricted in some way to women, will be and are a significant part of the Human Rights Report and I’m sure will be discussed in that context,” said Verveer.

“When she issued that memorable statement, she walked through a litany of abuses that women endure around the world, from child marriage to girl feticide and infanticide just because they’re girls – and there’s a cover story in The Economist this week about that – honor crimes, domestic violence, rape as a tool of war, so horribly illustrated today in what’s going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

The other recipient of the award was Ann Njogu from Kenya. Verveer said Njogu had suffered greatly for the position she had taken in fighting corruption, in dealing with a range of challenges in that country, and the upsurge also in sexual and gender-based violence that is taking place there.

“She’s been very active in the effort on constitutional reform, and as is so typical of so many of Women of Courage and activists around the world, many of the issues they deal with has to do with the status of women and the challenges to women, but they are also women who are engaged on the range of issues that their countries and their societies are confronting.

Verveer said Mukoko had endured a great deal. She was horribly abused and took her case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor.

The two women also met with US First Lady, Michelle Obama.