Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

The ones Amnesty International left out

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I was one of those lucky enough to receive from Kubatana a hard copy of Amnesty International’s latest report on Zimbabwe; Between a rock and a hard place: Women human rights defenders at risk.

The report had very good observations, as I expected. The researcher really did justice to her work. However, going through the report, you really get the feeling you are reading a Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) corporal abuse report. In the forty paged report, most of the researcher’s examples are the activities of WOZA. Not that I have anything against them, as a matter of fact; I am a huge fan and admirer of their resilience. But those women are not the only outstanding human rights defenders in this country.

How is it possible for one to talk about women human rights defenders, and leave out Beatrice Mtetwa, President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe who in May of this year was made to lie on the ground and get thoroughly beaten up together with her male counterparts in public? Is she not at some sort of risk too? What of her long record of sterling work as a defender of the very fundamental and most important right to freedom of expression? Mtetwa is the recipient of the CPJ’s International Press Freedom 2005 Award. I kept the picture of her from the Standard, half naked with bruises all over. I was glad at least that Grace Kwinje was mentioned in passing as being one of the MDC members who got severely injured and needed hospitalization.

How about the women who risk breaking their backs or literally dropping dead carrying impossible weights of groceries across hostile borders to feed not only their families but also you and I? They come back with scarce commodities like cooking oil from South Africa for you and me to buy. These are informal cross border traders who have been pushed by the harsh economic climate and food shortages to go for days on end away from family in territories where Zimbabweans are considered the enemy. They are especially vulnerable to harassment, abuse and health risks, spending extended periods in high HIV transmission areas where those who command authority, e.g. border/customs officials/money changers/ taxi drivers often take advantage.

These women, Reiko Matsuyama – Project Officer with an IOM programme called Partnership on HIV and Mobility in Southern Africa (PHAMSA) – aptly described as “a largely invisible population”. Just for the realization of the right to live; they are in constant friction with the police, sometimes braving cold nights in the open trying to get visas. Does being an activist necessarily mean you have to first get a thorough beating before you are recognized as such? So many other rights defenders go unnoticed everyday of their lives, but fight tooth and nail for the well being of this country. But then again, I guess it just had to be a forty-page report!

As for going through the recommendations, I could not help but feel a certain kind of despair. I mean the researcher writes that, “Where injury is caused by use of force, police must ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to the injured . . . at the earliest possible moment . . .” Is this a joke? Injury, especially by the police to non-violent protesters is not by accident.  The researcher also recommends that the perpetrators ensure aid comes through. How about a recommendation to confront the errant police themselves? No one is above the law. Why treat them like they act absent mindedly, the I-slid-my-foot-under-yours kind of mentality. Being a cop does not mean you are always right and are following rules. It would be nice to see a sentence that reads, “Errant police terrorizing innocent and non-violent protesters should be prosecuted, despite rank or office.”

As for recommendations to Mbeki, I think lets rather forget about those, and look at how best to deal with the next theatrical piece coming from the Mwanawasa productions. The last annual SADC summit in Lusaka provided an excellent preamble to what we should anticipate.

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