By Gift Phiri
The ongoing savage crackdown by the military against innocent civilians — including killings, rape, torture and horrendous beatings of law-abiding citizens — has become a full-blown international human rights crisis for President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa inspects Russian honour guards during a welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on January 14, 2019. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) Such is the extent of the global public relations disaster that now confronts Zimbabwe’s so-called new dispensation — as a result of the dreadful conduct of the country’s security forces over the past two weeks — that even hitherto friendly powers such as Britain are now turning against Zimbabwe.
And from the United States of America to Germany, China and South Africa, the only coverage being given to Zimbabwe these days in those countries’ mainstream media only relates to the brutal clampdown by authorities against dissenting voices.
Similarly, churches and global human rights organisations are churning out statement after statement on the military’s atrocities in the country, meaning that Zimbabwe once again finds itself in the position which obtained in the last two decades of former president Robert Mugabe’s ruinous rule — as a pariah among the global family of nations.
Not surprisingly, the United Kingdom is planning to take Zimbabwe’s ongoing human rights abuses to all relevant multilateral forums — including the United Nations — Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said last week.
“We all celebrated the demise of the Mugabe regime, feeling and hoping that a new chapter of Zimbabwean history was commencing. We are very concerned about the disproportionate response of the security forces to the recent protests,” British minister of State in the Foreign Office, Mark Field, added.
On its part, Amnesty International has called on authorities to reign in the security forces, and to see to it that they are held to account for the ongoing brutal human rights violations.
“At least 12 people have been killed and dozens more injured by the security forces since protests began on 14 January.
“Up to 700 people, including minors, have been detained after being arrested on trumped-up charges or brought before courts in hearings that do not meet fair trial standards. Hundreds have been denied bail,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for southern Africa, said at the weekend.
“The onslaught by the security forces has seen people killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, reportedly raped and jailed on suspicion of taking part in protests. Children as young as 11 years old have been detained on frivolous charges.
“The Zimbabwean authorities must immediately halt their menacing threats towards civil society leaders, activists, opposition leaders, and suspected organisers of protests.
“The authorities must ensure that those who violated and continue to violate human rights face justice,” Muchena added.
He said Amnesty International had documented a systematic pattern of human rights violations, including restrictions on public assembly, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, and the recent Internet shutdowns by authorities.
“A Zimbabwe that is prosperous and based on the rule of law will never be built by brutalising dissent. The authorities must immediately stop this merciless crackdown on activists, civil society leaders, and others who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their right to freedom of expression.
“President Mnangagwa has called on all Zimbabweans to come together during this difficult moment. That must include respecting human rights,” Muchena said.
On its part, the military has denied that its members are responsible for the killings, rape and beatings — saying the perpetrators of these atrocities are “bogus elements” working to sully the image of security forces.
“The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) has noted with concern allegations of misconduct and acts of violence … The actions of these bogus elements have subsequently put the image of the organisation into disrepute,” it said this week.
However, local churches and rights groups have disputed this rebuttal and also challenged the government to act to bring justice to the victims of the violence, which they say has reached “epidemic levels.”
In a rare rebuke of the government, the founder and senior pastor of Celebration Church, Tom Deuschle, said it was heart-breaking that dozens of victims of sexual violence in this conflict were children.
“I spoke to one of Zimbabwe’s fine nurse counsellors yesterday. Stories of more than 23 children she had treated— all brutalised physically + sexually during recent political upheaval.
“They all identified police as perpetrators! Unacceptable! Cannot be swept under the carpet,” the respected cleric wrote on Twitter.
Last week, the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe also issued a withering criticism of the government, saying it should end the rights abuses in the country by the military.
“We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe, have observed with increasing concern and alarm the state of our Zimbabwean nation from the time of the military-assisted political change that took place in November 2017, to the total shutdown of Zimbabwe’s major cities and rural trading centres that began on Monday, 14 January 2019.
“We witnessed with sadness and concern the dissipation of hope for a united nation and a promising future when our politicians failed to harness the palpable oneness and goodwill prevailing among Zimbabweans across the political divide during and immediately after the political events of November 2017.
“Government’s heavy-handed and intolerant handling of dissent and expression of rights by … the dissatisfied population resulted in injury and death to innocent ordinary people,” the bishops said in their letter sent to the Vatican last week.
Meanwhile, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the government had launched probes into the alleged abuses by security forces.
“Everything will be investigated and no stone will be left unturned. We need peace to prevail,” she said.
Police also said they were separately investigating all accusations made against their officers and urged people to report “without fear” all those who had perpetrated the violence.
“The ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage wishes to acknowledge reports of alleged rape, sexual abuse and assaults that have been perpetrated by security forces during the recent operation.
“So far, the police have received one such report from St Mary’s, Chitungwiza, and the case is already under investigation.
“We take these rape allegations very seriously and investigations will be instituted immediately once complainants file reports with the police.
“Let me assure all Zimbabweans that … government takes an exception to anyone who perpetrates any form of crime, especially rape perpetrated against women and children,” Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema said at the weekend.
Human rights groups said it was “shocking “ that brutal acts of sexual and gender-based violence continued to be perpetrated even after Mnangagwa had promised to take action.
“Men in army uniforms allegedly raped three Form One girls today in Old Phumula, Bulawayo, & 11 men in army uniforms ordered people at Bhangu shops in Mpopoma, Bulawayo to close their shops & go indoors … no reasons given for directive,” Human Rights Watch director for southern Africa , Dewa Mavhinga said on Twitter. Daily News
Credit: Source link