Wednesday, June 18, 2008

UN Advocacy

Ecumenical organisations highlight Zimbabwe crisis at Geneva UN

17 June 2008

The World Student Christian Federation, World YWCA, Girl Child Network and the World Alliance of YMCAs has held a parallel event at the 8th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the role of women and young people as Zimbabwe faces a crucial presidential election run-off. Speakers from the contributing organisations shared their perspectives on the critical economic, political and social factors that are contributing to the increasing violence, fear and instability being experienced in the country at present.Moderated by World YWCA's Deputy General Secretary Natalie Fisher, a panel of speakers from each of the four organisations shared their experiences and insights on the crisis Zimbabweans are facing today, followed by a discussion opened up to the audience.A representative of YWCA of Zimbabwe shared her observations on the role of women in monitoring the March 29th general elections and her expectations for the turn out for the upcoming presidential run-off. As a rural woman who trained and served as an observer in the March presidential elections, she was able to contribute first-hand knowledge of how difficult it will be for women to get involved in the run-off, since many are too fearful for their safety to come out and vote. She concluded by emphasising the need for peace-building programmes for Zimbabwe's future.WSCF Southern Africa Human Rights Officer and Zimbabwean lawyer, Mr. Marlon Zakeyo, spoke on the panel in place of WSCF's intended speaker Mr. Prosper Munatsi, General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement in Zimbabwe. Mr. Munatsi had been prevented from attending the event due to his detention and imprisonment in Harare earlier this week, following a heavily armed police raid on the SCM Zimbabwe national office immediately prior to his scheduled departure for Geneva.Speaking from his up to the minute contact with SCM Zimbabwe, Marlon Zakeyo spoke on the horrific upsurge in state violence that has appeared over the past week and emphasised the urgent need for international solidarity and action to help stop attacks on student leaders and civil society groups across Zimbabwe. Marlon referred to Zimbabwe as a country "on the brink of disaster" due to the "systematic and widespread violence" taking place. He pointed out the sad fact that in the run up to the March 29 elections most Zimbabweans were able to wear any party regalia of their choice and freely campaign for opposition candidates, but this has now made it very easy for the police, soldiers and militia forces to identify and target those they suspect to be sympathetic to the opposition.With the assistance of text messaging contact, Mr. Zakeyo has been able to receive up to the minute updates on Zimbabwean friends during the real time stages of arrests, imprisonment, harassment of lawyers and receipt of police threats. This has allowed him to contact the Rapid Response Unit of Zimbabwean human rights lawyers and the International Commission of Jurists to inform them of the situation as it happened and therefore help secure the release of illegally detained civil society actors and lawyers. Mr. Zakeyo added a serious concern about the economic context in Zimbabwe, which is putting such intense pressure on young people that some are changing from victims to perpetuators and have begun to engage in violence and state-sponsored intimidation, in order to receive payouts. According to Marlon the economic crisis has also led to an increase in general disorder with subsequent rises in theft and rape and at the same time adding factors such as the widespread disruption of education, leaving students without hope or productive activity.The Zimbabwean woman from the Girl Child Network who spoke has chosen to remain anonymous alongside her compatriot from YWCA. She focused her presentation on the fact that young girls and women are bearing the brunt of increased violence in Zimbabwe and noted that the Girl Child Network is working on the ground to try and protect young girls from abusive and violent situations. She emphasised that because of suspension of humanitarian aid from abroad, hunger is on the increase. She focused on the reality that hunger forces more desperately poor young women to enter into prostitution, which in turn increases the risk of HIV AIDS among the population.Mr. Michael Wardlow from YMCA spoke on the Zimbabwe situation drawing on his experience working in violent scenarios in Northern Ireland. He spoke on the requisite environment for reconciliation, arguing that while there is a monopoly on information, people have no challenge to their stereotypes of enemies. He said that positive interaction between people from both sides of the conflict will be essential, in order to achieve the reconciliation necessary for the rebuilding of a strong and prosperous post-crisis country. Tomorrow at the WSCF-YWCA organised Zimbabwe weekly focus meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, human rights defenders from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights will make presentations on Zimbabwean issues to resource the ecumenical movement on further appropriate actions to take in support of Zimbabweans in the current crisis.

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