A few weeks ago, Zimbabwe made headlines for yet another public display of gross violation of human rights. At least 45 citizens who run human rights organizations and/or publicly defend human rights have been unlawfully detained. Even though, 39 of these have been released, the rest could face the death penalty if convicted. For over a decade or so, the nation of Zimbabwe has been crippled by one catastrophic humanitarian crisis after another, and the situation appears to be worsening. It goes without saying that a country that respects human rights thrives politically, economically and socially. It’s easy to understand the political and social benefit of observing human rights, but the economic advantage might be not be as apparent.
Granted democracy is just one aspect of human right, but is also the most basic depiction of a government’s commitment to uphold the rights of its citizens. Its contribution to economic development, albeit contentious, given that some economies have survived under despotic leadership is not inconsequential. Absence of peace and human rights will most certainly lead to an uprising, or political instability, and the resources that would have otherwise been plugged into the economy are spent on maintaining stability. Whilst some economies might benefit from a military industrial complex in times of war, Zimbabwe doesn’t have that privilege. The blatant abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe is appalling and needs to be addressed. Many nations seem to have forgotten the simple basics; hence the various revolutions in the last couple of months. Happy people do contribute to the growth of an economy – believe it or not.
So much can be said about Zimbabwe as a country. Its history and politics have been nothing short of despotic and frustrating. In 2002, Robert Mugabe passed the infamous land reform, a legislation that stripped all white farmers of their land titles and authorized police forces to literally kick all farmers, their kin off their land. Zanu, the then ruling party promised to restore the acquired land from over 800 white farmers to landless blacks in Zimbabwe. Consequently, a considerate number of those who lost their land and possession were taken to military camps where they were unlawful detained, beaten, and abused for several months. Redistribution of property to the poor is admirable, but there is no question that violent seizure of land from those who rightfully own it is a violation of human rights. Additionally, the last two presidential elections have been characterized by violence, mass killings, unlawful detainment and mysterious disappearances. Again, it is no secret that Mugabe and his associates instigated these violations. Because Mugabe was not willing to give up power, the electorate event ended with a global agreement to power division, with both the ruling and Democratic Party to sharing the political mandate. This nation has probably done just about everything to frustrate other members of the African Union, not to mention that the economy of Zimbabwe has been plagued with inflation for over a decade.
Brian Orend, one of my favorite commentators and authors on human rights defines a right as “a justified claim on someone or some institution for something, which one is owed.” Every human being is entitled to the rights and freedoms provided for by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and every nation that ratifies this document is bound by its stipulations. Human rights are universal and equal for everyone, and not only do we as human beings have a claim on those rights, but the government as an institution is obliged to respect and protect those rights. One of the many rights legislated by the declaration is the right to free expression without interference. To strip citizens of their right to voice their opinions and stand up for the rights of others, is a loud declaration of tyranny. On April 6th 2011, Abel Chikomo, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, was charged with running an illegal organization. Mr Chikomo claims that these allegations hold no water because organizations registered under the common law associations are supposed to be exempt from registration under the PVO act. These charges are baseless and are a ploy to further frustrate and violate the rights of the people in the nation.
Forming a legal charity organization that is focused on defending the rights of others is an exercise of one’s freedom of expression – an internationally recognized right. Therefore for the government to unlawfully detain citizens who are only seeking to enjoy their rights is pure madness. It is disappointing when leaders of a nation decide to violate the rights of the people they are meant to protect. As a member of the diaspora, I worry about nations that think they can get away with violating human rights, especially nations whose economies are struggling.
This by no means assumes that the big super powers of the world are not guilty of human rights violations; on the contrary, most super powers are guilty of the most heinous violations the world has seen (the holocaust, Nanking saga, Guantanamo Bay). However, some of these nations seem to have learned from their mistakes and they are keen not to suffocate the rights of the majority. Zimbabwe however has learned nothing from historical human rights violations, and apparently the government is turning a blind eye to present day events as well. While the rest of the world is literally fighting to protect and defend human rights (Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya Sudan), the Zimbabwean government is shamelessly and aggressively doing everything in their might to overshadow human rights! How can the economy possibly grow, if laws such as “land seizures – passed in 2007”, unlawful detention, unfair elections, violence and censorship of the press prevail? It is imperative that the fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens are respected and honored. War and violence are not favorable for investment and development, and a commitment to respect all citizens is a step towards change.
In essence, it is laughable for a sane democratic leader to willingly harm the citizens he/she is meant to protect. Article 5 of the UDHR stipulates that:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Of course punishment and retribution are necessary elements that uphold the legal system. However punishment for “unjustifiable crimes” is preposterous, especially in the absence of a fair legal system. The fact that the death penalty is considered as punishment for citizens who stand up for human rights is not only ironic but wrong on so many levels. Assuming that the arrested individuals get a chance to fair trial, on what grounds can the crime of “forming a legitimate political organization” be justified in the courts of law? But as with everything else, the legal system in Zimbabwe seems to be taking a back seat.
Zimbabwe has a chance to rise up from the ashes and right the wrongs that have been committed. However, change is inconceivable in any nation, if a)the leaders of that nation don’t recognize the problems that face them, b) are indisposed to do anything about them, c) continue to promote their own desires above those of the citizens they are meant to serve. The principles of human rights are simple. The need to respect and defend even the most basic rights is an assumed obligation of every democratic leader, especially those who recognize and adhere to the legality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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