Rights Commission brings demos into spotlight

HARARE - The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) chairperson, Elasto Mugwadi, has set the cat among the pigeons after he reaffirmed that every Zimbabwean had a right to demonstrate and freely associate with a political party of their choice, in a statement which flies in the face of President Robert Mugabe’s government which has been using force to stop pro-democracy groups from holding protests.

Mugwadi’s statements come as opposition and pro-democracy groups have warned that they will escalate their protests against Mugabe’s government this year in a bid to force the nonagenarian to act on the worsening economic situation.

On the other hand, police maintain a ban on all demonstrations in central Harare, despite the Constitution guaranteeing such actions.

“People have the right to assembly, to association, to choose their political leaders but by free will, not by coercion and that those who are going about politicking have to do it in a free environment without inciting anybody,” Mugwadi said on Friday, while welcoming Makanatsa Makonese to the post of executive secretary of the organisation that had been vacant since 2015, following Jester Charewa’s move to the High Court bench.

“Rights by the way come with responsibility, do unto others as you would expect them to do unto you and if you are not going to do it in a peaceful manner, you are then violating the next person’s right and the police have a duty to make sure that such demonstrations are carried out peacefully.

“…not everybody who is in the queue of demonstrators there has all the best of intensions. They will be out there to cause havoc and if it’s not controlled you will end up having property destroyed, vandalism, thefts and all those issues,” added Mugwadi.

He said next year’s national elections must be violent-free, as perpetrators of violence will meet the consequences.

“What we are saying is winning an election is not by violence but it has to be in form of following democratic principles enshrined also in our Constitution,” said the former Immigration Department boss.

The ZHRC — a constitutional body, whose main mandate is to protect, promote and enforce human rights — collided with Mugabe last year after it released a damning report, claiming Zanu PF was only distributing food to its members and neglecting those from opposition parties.

Mugabe publicly attacked Mugwadi and the ZHRC by dismissing their report as an outright lie.

In 2014, following the Hurungwe West by-election, where former Mashonaland West provincial chairman, Temba Mliswa narrowly lost to Zanu PF’s Keith Guzah, the commission released a damning report about the violent activities by the ruling party that were perpetrated on innocent civilians — leading to the prosecution of some of the people who participated in the violent acts.

On Friday, Mugwadi said the ZHRC would carry its work without fear or favour in investigating human rights abuses and politically-motivated violence  before, during and after elections.

“The Constitution says we can direct the commissioner general of police to carry out investigations and prosecute or cause the prosecution of perpetrators and we have done this before, we will continue to do it and we hope those who will be participating in the elections should be deterred by the fact that if they are caught on the wrong side of the law, they will be prosecuted,” Mugwadi said.

“We are saying to everybody who is going to be participating, if you get involved in violence, if you have failed to convince someone, because you have your own proper platform, you are promising people you are going to do A, B, C for them, you might as well not get out of your house because you will be arrested if you want to do it in a violent way.”

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