October 12, 2011

Minister under fire for rejecting reform amendments

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told a UN human rights conference in Geneva that the government would not make any changes to the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and other ‘justified’ security laws. Zimbabwean civil society organizations and human rights activists have therefore voiced outrage, they warned that to go into the next elections without changes would lead to another disputed outcome as in 2008. Chinamasa declared that the government would not make any changes to the Public Order and Security Act, which critics say Zimbabwean police have long exploited to harass opponents of the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe. He added that there were no plans to amend the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act despite provisions in the 2008 Global Political Agreement saying amendments were needed to level the playing field for political parties. Chinamasa said the two laws were “justified.” In closing remarks to the UN working group conducting a periodic review of human rights in Zimbabwe, Chinamasa reiterated that ZANU-PF would not budge on reforming the controversial laws.

Fifty-five member countries attending the Geneva meeting put forward 179 rights recommendations for Zimbabwe, of which Chinamasa accepted 81, saying Zimbabwe was only accepting proposals from developing countries, not the West. Some of the recommendations he rejected included a call by countries including Zambia for Harare to subscribe to international statutes against torture and the Rome statute establishing the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Civic groups and rights activists say that unless POSA and other laws were overhauled along with other legislation including in particular the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (often used to block release on bail) Zimbabwe’s next election would not be free or fair as police will continue using the laws to curtail non-ZANU-PF political activity. Thabitha Khumalo, a spokeswoman for the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, also said that her party would not participate in elections if its activities were circumscribed by authorities as they had been in previous elections. In run-up to the 2008 elections police frequently blocked MDC meetings and rallies. Rights activist and political commentator Effie Dlela Ncube also claimed that ZANU-PF could not win an election without POSA and other draconian security laws in place, hence its resistance to reform of those laws. (voa news)

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