On 13th April 2013 Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) legal representatives from Washington based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) filed a communication to the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights during its 53rd session in Banjul, The Gambia.
The applicants in this communication are Jennifer Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu and WOZA. The two WOZA leaders have been arrested over 50 times in the 10 years of WOZA’s existence. Williams has filed as the official representative of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA).
The communication demonstrates Zimbabwe’s clear and systematic pattern of suppression of WOZA’s rights to engage in peaceful protest and public demonstrations. It details over 24 incidents of violations over the course of two years of the Applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, non-discrimination, and equal protection of the law-all protected by the African Charter.
Article 6 of the Charter states that every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained. Article 9 of the Charter, protects the right to freedom of expression, and states that every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.
WOZA are of the view therefore that the right to engage in peaceful protest is an “essential and constituent element of democracies” and anchored by the twin pillars of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Pending the finalization of this matter the two activists and WOZA members have requested the African Commission to grant provisional measures interdicting the Republic of Zimbabwe from interfering in any way with the Applicant’s right to peaceful protest and public demonstrations, particularly in the time period between the date of filing this communication and the 2013 Zimbabwean elections. In particular, the Applicants requested the African Commission to interdict the Republic of Zimbabwe to refrain from arresting or detaining the Applicants and other members of WOZA when they are engaging in peaceful protest and public demonstrations as protected by the Charter.
The applicants also requests that the Commission orders the Republic of Zimbabwe take measures to facilitate the right to engage in peaceful protest and public demonstrations and remove any restriction of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly in law or practice that is incompatible to the Human and Peoples Rights Charter.
The timing of this communication is due to escalation of repression on civic society organisations and the shrinking space for exercising and protecting human rights as Zimbabwe gears for harmonised election.
WOZA took this course of action after the Zimbabwe Republic Police have failed to respect the Supreme Court ruling of 26 November 2010. (Jennifer Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu v. Phathekile Msipha, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, Judgment No. SC 22/10). The ZRP continue to clamp down on WOZA and the repression has taken the form of criminalising peaceful processions and WOZA gatherings. The police have disturbed hundreds of peaceful processions, indiscriminately beating and arresting over 3000 members. During the 10th peaceful processions of Saint Valentine’s Day on 13 February, in Harare and in Bulawayo on 14 February 2013, police deployed tear gas, beat and arrested members.
Additionally, WOZA members who were marching on 13th November 2012 to demand Bulawayo city council adhere to water load shedding timetables and that the council deal with politicisation of water supply were beaten, insulted and dumped at a graveyard. The level of tribal insults and the symbol of dumping the members at the graveyard are serious threats against the organisation and its members. WOZA analysis points to a more direct tribal repression being practiced in Bulawayo by Police officers based there. This repression is part of the marginalisation of the region despite the fact that the orders carried out by Bulawayo police officers originate from the same command structure in Harare.
Despite this harassment by Police officers, WOZA have painstakingly attempted to engage the police leadership. Specific request have been that they follow the legal guidelines on dispersing peaceful protests rather than perpetrating abuses. When this failed, letters of complaint were written and ignored. The Joint Monitoring and Operating Committee (JOMIC) refused to deal with WOZA complaints arguing that their mandate was to focus on political parties despite clear requirements detailed under the global political agreement.
After the so-called Arab spring, repression increased and the Supreme Court ruling became completely ignored, leaving the human rights defenders without a route to hold the Police accountable and their right to assembly and peacefully express their views severely diminished.
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a civic movement with a countrywide membership of over approximately 85,000 women and men formed in 2002 to lobby and advocate on issues affecting women and their families in Zimbabwe. WOZA participates in a variety of campaigns locally and internationally and has conducted hundreds of peaceful protests and public demonstrations in Zimbabwe since 2002. WOZA’s express aim is to mobilise Zimbabweans, especially women, to demand social justice and it educates its members about their rights and freedoms and asks them to fully participate in all civic processes. WOZA conducts civic education programmes and teaches its members nonviolent ways to speak out about their issues.