Zimbabwe goes to the polls peacefully – but will it stay that way?

Zimbabweans have gone to the polls today for the first time since the violent elections of 2008, when 200 people were killed and thousands more were injured and displaced from their homes. The majority of the global media is focussing on the whether the election has been rigged, as already implied by the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai, and whether President Mugabe would accept defeat and step down after 33 years should the vote go against him.

I’ll leave the debate on the former to others and time will tell on the latter, but with results not due to be announced for five days, the speculation is only likely to mount. It’s also worth noting that in 2008 it took five weeks before the results were announced…

Amnesty takes no position on the outcome of these elections – or any others around the world. Our role is to ensure that human rights are respected. This is true of all times of course, but is particularly the case during an election period, so today I’d like to reiterate our call on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression (including political dissent) of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

In particular, the police should comply with international law enforcement standards and not to use any unnecessary or excessive force against protestors. It should go without saying, but the police should never arbitrarily arrest people for peacefully exercising their human rights, as has sadly been the case too often in Zimbabwe. Our recent report ‘Walk the Talk’ highlights how Zimbabwean police have targeted and intimidated human rights defenders this year in the lead up to the elections.

The immediate period ahead of the elections has been relatively quiet however, particularly considering the high potential for violence.  Save for some isolated reports of inter-party clashes, beatings and intimidation, the days prior to the election have been calm. It’s too early to celebrate a violence-free election however as many Zimbabwean human rights activists are concerned that violence may raise its ugly head in the coming days, weeks or months.

The calm before the storm?

If things do deteriorate, they would echo the events of 2008 when the initial vote in March was also peaceful, and things turned sour that year after the vote was inconclusive. This set up a June presidential run-off between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai (which Tsvangirai ultimately withdrew from due to the level of violence).

We’ll continue to monitor events closely and should history repeat itself, we will react accordingly. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to hear the latest, and how you can continue to stand up for human rights in Zimbabwe.

In the meantime if you haven’t yet watched our new animation, which tells the story of Nolwandle and her journey to becoming a Zimbabwean human rights defender, please do so now. It’s inspiring stuff!
 

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