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Human rights in the ordinary and the extraordinary

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Amnesty International’s recent report Between a rock and a hard place – women human rights defenders at risk provides a powerful, moving account of the range of issues faced by women human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

Using a combination of case studies, statistics, narrative, testimonials and photographs, Amnesty takes on some of the high profile instances where such women have been harassed, attacked and brutalised by the state, particularly since 2005. It recounts how Women of Zimbabwe Arise members with small children have been arrested and detained overnight, their babies also kept in custody. In November 2006, “police in Bulawayo used excessive force to disperse over 200 WOZA members participating in a peaceful protest . . . Among the injured were a woman and baby, both of whom suffered broken legs.”

It discusses the September 2006 ZCTU demonstration and the attack on trade union activists including ZCTU first Vice President Lucia Matibenga in detention, in which her eardrum was perforated. With vivid pictures, it describes the 11 March Save Zimbabwe rally in which Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh, among others, were repeatedly beaten while in police custody, which resulted in them being hospitalised for weeks and eventually seeking medical treatment outside the country.

Doubtless had the report come out a few weeks later, it would also have described how, at a recent NCA demonstration in which 254 people were arrested, women with babies on their backs were ordered to put their babies on the ground so that the police could beat the mothers.

But importantly, beyond these high profile accounts, the report describes human rights violations and defence at a much more basic, local level.

As a friend aptly reminded me the other day, there are a host of ways in which human rights are lived, defended and violated each day – outside the realm of politics, laws, or elections around which so many human rights activists frame their debate. There are human rights issues in simply surviving in our current economy – the right to food, the right to water, to health, to shelter and other basic human rights which are confronted in the course of day-to-day activities by women struggling to provide for themselves and their families.

The report uses moving personal stories to convey these struggles – the ways in which women were disproportionately affected by Operation Murambatsvina, the human rights concerns around access to food and housing, and the vulnerability of female headed houses to food insecurity. A 64 year old woman who cares for her six orphaned grandchildren aged 3-18 is denied access to GMB maize by local politicians because she is suspected of being and MDC sympathiser. Irene, evicted first by the farm invasions and then by Operation Murambatsvina is kicked in the stomach by a police officer while she is participating in a WOZA demonstration at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in August 2006, in protest of the “sunshine” currency reform. Two months pregnant, she miscarries whilst in the police cells, and is refused water with which to clean herself. Clara, a 60 year old member of the Women’s Coalition, from rural Chivi is summoned to her chief’s court and found “guilty of being disrespectful to men,” and fined a goat. She refuses to pay, and is subsequently denied access to GMB maize.

In conjunction with the report, Amnesty is promoting its webaction, urging appeals to the Chairperson of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to call on the government of Zimbabwe to end human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

2 comments to “Human rights in the ordinary and the extraordinary”

  1. Comment by Sokari:

    I read today that Mugabe has signed Interception of Communications Bill into law – see here:


    I am wondering what your feelings are about this law and how it will impact on yourself and other bloggers in Zimbabwe as well as your access to blogs and news sites outside of the county?


  2. Comment by Amanda Atwood:

    The law effectively legalises the sort of surveillance and snooping that many have suspected the regime of doing for some time. The state might well decide to limit access to external news sites and other web portals, but this law does not specifically provide for that. Already, many Zimbabweans have adopted pseudonyms or opted for anonymity in blogging and even in letters to the editor and other forms of expression. One fear is that they law will further contribute to self censorship, both in what is expressed and what is received. That is, I sincerely hope we do not see some people asking to be removed from email subscriber lists or distribution lists for fear of “reprisals” if the state knew what they were reading, and from whom.

    You can read more here: http://kubatanablogs.net/kubatana/?p=181