Friday, March 27, 2009

Zimbabwean Activists Bring their Voice to the UN

Representatives of Zimbabwean civil society join Ambassador Chipaziwa and Zimbabwe Permanent Mission staff for a photo moment after 'historic encounter'. (Geneva, 13/03/2009.)

By: Marlon Zakeyo,
Geneva, 27.03.2009

A strong Zimbabwean civil society delegation has recently returned home after participating in the 10th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Ten activists from the Crisis Coalition Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe, ZimRights and ICJ's Africa Programme were hosted by the Geneva-based Zimbabwe Advocacy Office over an intensive 2 week period.

The Zimbabwean activists took part in an interactive dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Judge Navanethem Pillay as well as briefings with staff from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, several Independent UN Experts and international NGOs concerned with the situation in Zimbabwe. During the meeting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights the delegation voiced support for her proposed fact-finding visit to the country as a matter of urgency. The Zimbabwean delegation also asked for the deployment of a UN Human Rights mechanism to Zimbabwe to help provide technical assistance and capacity-building for human rights defenders and state institutions such as the police and judiciary as well as, provide expertise on questions such as constitutional processes and transitional justice.

Judge Pillay informed the meeting that she had received assurances from President Mugabe and Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa, that the Government of Zimbabwe would allow her to enter the country. She and her office now await finalisation of the dates. Representatives of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights updated the Human Rights Council on the cases of political abductees and a civil society initiative to monitor the implementation of the Global Political Agreement. Monthly reports from the parallel monitoring exercise will be released each month from the beginning of April.

The Zimbabwe civil society delegation also called onto the Human Rights Council to ensure that the Government of Zimbabwe permits a litany of unmet requests by UN Independent Experts to conduct human rights missions in Zimbabwe. A long list of these special mechanisms have asked but denied permission to visit Zimbabwe from as far back as 2002. These include the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the Working Group on the use of Mercenaries and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.

The urgent calls from Zimbabwean civil society were also voiced in two side events organised at the UN Palais des Nations and reinforced in an oral intervention delivered on behalf of the group by ZimRights Director, Okay Machisa, in the main Council Room and in a press statement and conference led by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

The Zimbabwean activists also held briefings on the human rights situation and recent developments in Zimbabwe with several government delegations including, the South African Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Dr Glaudine Mtshali, representatives from Zambia and the Czech EU-Presidency among others. Thanking the South African government and other African states for the role they played in forging a deal to break the political stalemate in Zimbabwe, the group’s spokesperson McDonald Lewanika, asked the same governments to help ensure that Zimbabwe’s political leaders move urgently to resolve outstanding issues in the implementation of the Global Political Agreement. Lewanika also expressed civil society’s calls for full restoration of the rule of law, ensuring full access to food, water and health services and an end to attacks on human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

There was also time for what is thought to be the first-ever meeting between a civil society delegation to the Human Rights Council and the Zimbabwean Permanent Mission to the UN. Ambassador Chitsaka Chipaziwa and his staff welcomed the delegation and expressed sorrow over the tragic passing of the wife of Prime Minister Tsvangirai and also the demise of Rtd General Vitalis Zvinavashe, former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. The Ambassador acknowledged that over the past few years civil society and government representatives have ‘worked past each other’ at the Human Rights Council, but hoped that the meeting marked the beginning of a new spirit of engagement and co-operation. In response civil society welcomed the Ambassador’s message and reiterated the desire to engage with the government towards seeing a full restoration of Zimbabwe to the community of nations, to the rule of law, self-sufficiency and prosperity.

The curtain comes down on the 10th Session of the Human Rights Council this afternoon.

Zimbabwe Advocacy Office, Geneva

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