Human rights violations feared

HARARE - Four-and-half-years — ruled by an uneasy coalition that saw advances in human rights — are gone and on the horizon is a dark cloud, rights campaigners say.

Threats by President Robert Mugabe to punish urban voters are beginning to manifest, with residents of Harare and Chitungwiza going for weeks without water.

A basic human right has been turned into a privilege, they say.

Urban dwellers are bracing themselves for the worst after “their president” spurned them in public.

They have been told to get what they want from the losing MDC party, which retained Harare and Bulawayo.

Human rights observers predict a worsening of violations of people’s rights as the country relapses into exclusive rule by Mugabe, who is accused by Western countries of gross rights violations, a charge he strenuously denies.

With water taps running dry, the general person in Harare fears a return to the pre-inclusive government era when a cholera epidemic decimated 4 000 people.

The tragedy was direct result of a grotesque failure by an out-of-sorts government.

Many speculate that water is unavailable because they voted for the MDC.

It is a punishment, after all Mugabe promised to mete out such chastisement, they say.

On the human rights front, campaigners say the future is bleak.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti, fears that the Constitution will be the first victim of uninterrupted Zanu PF rule.

“Of all the things we achieved in the last four years, the one that will be under heaviest attack will be the new Constitution passed into law in May 2013,” said Biti.

The MDC secretary general, who helped author the new Constitution, claims that Zanu PF does not respect constitutionalism and will try to dilute the supreme document.

“The faction that fought the Constitution is not dead,” Biti said. “If anything, it strengthened its position in this election. It will be coming after this Constitution.

“The greatest threat however, does not come from a mere faction, but the entire system itself.”

After the final draft had been prepared in July 2012, Zanu PF produced over 262 counter proposals, following five nights of long marathon meetings and it is likely that with two thirds legislative majority, Mugabe’s party will make wide-ranging amendments.

Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher for Zimbabwe and southern Africa at for Human Rights Watch, forecasts a reversal of the few human rights achievements made thus far.

“The GNU’s full potential for human rights reforms and improvement of living conditions for Zimbabweans was never fully realised,” Mavhinga said.

“Worse still, now that Zanu PF, that party that resisted fundamental reforms under GNU, is back in total government control, there is real concern that it may move swiftly to undo the small progressive human rights reforms achieved in the past five years and take Zimbabwe back to pariah status characterised by the absence of the rule of law and respect for basic freedoms.”

The only solace for human rights campaigners is that the Bill of Rights in the new Constitution is so protected that it cannot be amended by a simple parliamentary majority but would require a referendum.

“The real assault on the Bill of Rights will come from the way it will be interpreted or misinterpreted in the courts,” Biti said. “If the courts fail to recognise that the new Bill Rights, like the new Constitution is intended to be a departure, a new paradigm from the old constitutional order, then there will be challenges.”

At a press conference soon after winning the contested polls, Zanu PF legal point-man Patrick Chinamasa indicated that the new “Constitution may need cleaning up,” a statement that was later dismissed by the party.

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