The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) welcomes the release of investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono from detention. However, the Commission remains deeply concerned with reports of alleged continued human rights violations in the Republic of Zimbabwe. We note and support various calls made by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), recently, including the steps it took soon after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic related measures, to highlight the importance of respecting and fulfilling, among others, the right to life, freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as the right to a fair trial.
While these alleged human rights violations are taking place in Zimbabwe, the SAHRC wishes to underline that human rights know no borders. These violations have implications on neighbouring countries such as South Africa.
It has been reported that through its agencies such as the police, the government of Zimbabwe has been targeting critics from the various political and civic formations such as the arrest and detention of investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, author Tsitsi Dangarembga and others. It is further reported that the government appears to have used the current COVID-19 lockdown to disproportionately restrict various civil and political rights such as the freedoms of assembly, speech, petition and protest. All these restrictions appear to be designed to suppress dissent.
For instance, on 24 July 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns that Zimbabwean authorities may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Reports also suggest that there have been instances of disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of those arrested and deprived of their liberty. The SAHRC urges the government of the Republic Zimbabwe to respect customary international law, international and regional human rights treaties to which it is a State Party and specifically to ensure that no one is subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) requires States to protect the rights of individuals irrespective of their political affiliation. Following the absolute prohibition of torture in international law, the Charter further prohibits all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As a member of the African Union, the Republic of Zimbabwe must promote and protect human rights within its territory.
The SAHRC urges the government of Zimbabwe and its relevant officials to treat those arrested and detained humanely and ensure access to basic rights and particularly, COVID-19 precautionary measures. Those who have been arrested for allegedly committing any offences must still benefit from the presumption of innocence and subject to the rule of law.
While the SAHRC notes and commends the appointment of the special envoys by President Cyril Ramaphosa, more must be done at the regional and sub-regional levels. Similarly, the SAHRC calls on the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to ensure the Republic of Zimbabwe complies with its human rights obligations promptly. This is a test for the commitment of the SADC and AU to fundamental human rights.