Human rights concerns during Zimbabwe elections

By Stephanie McBride, Zimbabwe coordinator, Amnesty International Canada (English)

On the morning of July 31st, I woke up to messages of hope and optimism spread across my Facebook feed, my morning news, and my inbox. Many of my friends in Zimbabwe had posted statuses and updates about the elections that day, which would determine the composition of the House of Commons and the Senate as well as the future President of Zimbabwe.

Very few incidents of violence were reported during or immediately after the elections. The chief of the African Union monitoring mission, Olusegun Obasanjo, stated that although “there are incidences that could have been avoided…we do not believe that these incidents will amount to the results not reflecting the will of the people.” Shortly before the announcement of a landslide victory for Robert Mugabe, who is reported to have captured 61% of the vote, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) announced that the election was a “huge farce.” He has since mounted a legal challenge of the election results and is now discussing a boycott of all government institutions.

While President Jacob Zuma of South Africa congratulated the President on his re-election, many Western nations, including Canada and the United States, added their concerns to those of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN). ZESN, a non-governmental organization based in Zimbabwe, fielded approximately 6,000 accredited observers and has made numerous criticisms of the electoral process.

For starters, ZESN says, the electoral roll was made publicly available only two days before the poll, meaning that there was little time to verify voters’ names and eliminate duplications. It has been reported that nearly 1 million people were prevented from casting ballots due to irregularities in the voters’ roll. The African Union also reported that more than 8 million ballots were printed, far exceeding the 6.4 million ballots needed to fulfill the needs of registered voters and disregarding international best practice.

There have been further allegations that many voters, particularly in rural areas, were forced to pretend that they were illiterate or ill, meaning that they were required to cast their ballot with assistance from election officials. Amnesty International has recently issued a press release highlighting the plight of at least six women political activists who have reported fleeing their homes with their families after facing intimidation from village heads in Mashonaland Central Province. The families reported that they were targeted for their support—real or perceived—for the MDC.

Political harassment has affected many members of civil society as well; Magodonga Mahlangu, one of the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA), the popular grassroots activism movement, was arrested on August 6th in Bulawayo and accused of threatening an MDC-T Ward Chairwoman, Gladys Dube. According to WOZA, a flyer was distributed in a Bulawayo suburb that spoke ill of the MDC-T and was falsely affiliated with WOZA in an attempt to discredit their impartial and apolitical status. It has also been reported by WOZA that Gladys Dube and other MDC-T members went to the houses of three WOZA members to threaten them with retribution before reporting WOZA members to the police. Any kind of politically motivated policing violates the rights of Zimbabweans to freedom of peaceful expression and association.

Political violence during the 2008 presidential elections resulted in approximately 200 people killed and tens of thousands displaced. Thankfully, this year’s elections have not resulted in the same tragic headlines. However, allegations of vote rigging should be taken seriously and thoroughly examined. Zimbabweans deserve more than hopeful posts on Facebook accounts. Zimbabweans deserve a government that is transparent, accountable, and responsive to their needs.