Zimbabwe: Global pressure needed to stop abductions of rights activists

Rights defenders need international protection

With three human rights defenders abducted in less than one week by people suspected of working on behalf of the Zimbabwean authorities, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute today called for an immediate halt to abductions and for the abductees to be freed immediately.

The human rights groups came together to call on regional and international bodies to take strong action to protect those who fight for human rights in Zimbabwe.

The abduction of activists is taking place at a time when the country is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, including a cholera outbreak and severe food shortages for which the government is seeking international help.

Amnesty International Secretary-General, Irene Khan said:

“Behind the political crisis and health emergency, there is a worsening human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, with the most recent development being this unprecedented spate of abduction of human rights defenders.

“This shows the audacity of a regime that is desperate to stay in power, no matter what the cost. The only way out of this problem is through unified pressure from outside, in particular of African leaders.”

Harassment and ill-treatment of human rights defenders and their family members has intensified in recent days. Three human rights defenders and a family member of a prominent human rights lawyer have all been abducted, and their whereabouts remain unknown. The evidence points to officials working on behalf of or with the acquiescence of the Zimbabwean authorities.

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth said:

“The situation in Zimbabwe is spiraling out of control.

“The government has made clear it can’t end the humanitarian crisis and won’t end the vicious pursuit of its opponents. Regional and international leaders need urgently to respond.”

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Open Institute urged the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations (UN) to lead the way in exerting pressure on President Mugabe and called on African leaders to issue a unanimous and public condemnation of such actions.

They called for pressure to be placed on the authorities in Zimbabwe to observe their international obligations, end enforced disappearances, and investigate and hold those responsible to account.

Aryeh Neier, president of Open Society Institute said:

“The fight to ensure that human rights are respected in Zimbabwe is more critical than it has ever been.

“The AU and SADC with the support of the UN should provide the leadership that would demonstrate that Africa has the capacity and the will to resolve a grave crisis in a manner that mitigates the suffering of Zimbabweans.”

Although it remains unclear who abducted the four, the Zimbabwe authorities have a clear responsibility to determine and reveal the whereabouts of the abductees, the human rights groups said. Their failure to do this, let alone to acknowledge the abductions, places the abductees outside the protection of the law and may constitute an enforced disappearance which is a serious violation of international law.

An award winning human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe who is handling the case, Beatrice Mtetwa, said:

“The way this case has been handled demonstrates the complete breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. Citizens have not been able to rely on the courts for protection.”

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