Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) launched a report detailing the political violence experienced by their members in Harare on Wednesday 19 March 2008 at an event attended by diplomats, civic society leaders and members of WOZA and MOZA. The report is entitled “The effects of fighting repression WITH LOVE”.
The report is a result of research conducted by WOZA on what violations its members have gone through as women human rights defenders and who the perpetrators of these abuses are. The report was launched to make public the findings and to urgently draw attention to the risks faced by women activists as Zimbabwe braces itself for an election. It is intended that those who read the report will be motivated to take action to remedy the damage done to millions of people’s lives by a violent dictatorship.
The meeting was chaired by WOZA’s partners, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who vocalised their praise for the detail in the report and for the need for the women human rights defenders to be respected and for there to be justice for the abuses. ZLHR Board member and lawyer, Sarudzai Njerere said, ‘the report is an important tool in documenting what Zimbabweans have experienced’ and that ‘we should all join WOZA in standing up for social justice”.
Prominent activist and WOZA trustee, Mary Ndlovu launched the report by giving a brief outline of its contents. She highlighted that it encompasses the police response to peaceful protests by WOZA; that the majority of women interviewed reported multiple human rights violations; that it is apparent that police would like to intimidate and deter women from participation and that the police are in violation of domestic and regional professional codes and are committing criminal law offences all of which call for punishment although none seems to be forthcoming due to a breakdown and partial way the justice system now operates.
She went on to point out that the Zimbabwean government officials who give order to beat or detain the human rights defenders render Zimbabwe in violation of its own constitution and in breach of obligations under international law.
Two WOZA members also gave testimonies of their experiences at the hands of the Uniformed Branch and Law and Order department of the ZRP. One woman in the company of her four-year-old daughter, testified about their arrest and detention in horrid conditions for three days in 2004, well over the 48hour detention period permitted under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Her daughter was only three months old at the time and she only had two nappies with her and had to fight to access water to wash them when they became soiled. When members of WOZA tried to send disposable nappies in for her baby, police officers misappropriated them and she never received them. Despite this and further arrests and beatings, she remains an active member of WOZA.
Another woman testified that she had been abducted from her home in Bulawayo with her 18-month-old grandchild at 4am by Law and Order officers. They threatened to kill her by throwing her and the child in a dam. She had also been seriously beaten across the breasts by police and had to undergo extended medical treatment. These testimonies are indicative of the experiences of peaceful activists and reflective of the physical and mental torture they undergo in fighting for their basic freedoms to be realised.
WOZA National Coordinator, Jenni Williams, outlined the recommendations highlighted in the report. She also went on to say that in the light of WOZA’s recent experience in Bulawayo on the 8th March 2008, International Women’s Day, where over 50 members were brutalised, just weeks before the upcoming 29 March election, a free and fair climate for elections does not exist.
The report calls on the Zimbabwean government to immediately end violence against its citizens and on the Zimbabwe Republic Police to honour their commitment to the Police Act and the SARPCCO Code of Conduct for police officers. It also calls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to support human rights defenders rather than oppressive governments that deny people their domestically and internationally guaranteed rights and on the African Union (AU) to isolate representatives of the Zimbabwe government and any other government that fails to abide by its obligations under international law to respect human rights.
The international community was also called on to recognize the contribution of WOZA members as human rights defenders, and assist in the documentation and publicising of violations so that justice may be served in the future.
A further recommendation is for a Transitional Justice programme. The reports reads, “We call on Zimbabweans and non-Zimbabweans alike to assist in putting into place a mechanism which satisfies the wishes of the Zimbabwean people to see not retribution, but justice, truth and reconciliation, so that the guilty can do penance and the victims can feel healed of the many wounds they have suffered at the hands of state agents.”
Whilst the report made mention of the trauma experienced by WOZA women as a result of their experiences, it was felt that the findings are significant enough to be released in a separate report due for release soon. What is clear however is that the women have experienced more trauma in an independent Zimbabwe than in pre-Independence period.
To read a full copy of the report, click here: Fighting the effects of repression with love – report on political violence against WOZA members