Zimbabwe: political stalemate and activist arrests continue

Democracy activist Madock Chivasa

Democracy activist Madock Chivasa

Democracy activists are expressing concern at the detention of Madock Chivasa, chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Youth Forum and spokesperson for the National Constitutional Assembly, after he was arrested Thursday evening along with several other activists.

Five members of the Chivasa family were severely assaulted last year by over 30 ZANU-PF members, using staves, shamboks and whips.

The arrest of Chivasa is the latest in a series of arrests of democracy activists that prompted the Africa Democracy Forum, a network of over 450 democracy and human rights groups, to express concern and solidarity with Zimbabwe’s “courageous” civil society.

After meeting with over a dozen humanitarian, human rights, media, and religious groups, labor unions, youth and student movements, and concerned residents, a recent ADF delegation noted that there was “a more open, but still very limited, space” for civil society activities since the formation of the Government of National Unity on 11 February.  But the delegation also found that many civil society groups were anxious about the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by ZANU-PF and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change on 15 September 2008.

Frank Muchirahondo, a USAID employee arrested last month on allegations of attempting to assassinate Air Force Commander Perence Shiri, was freed this week. A Bindura magistrate rejected police requests to place Muchirahondo, who was reportedly beaten and tortured, on further remand.

President Robert Mugabe’s regime murdered more than 193 people last year as it sought to suppress the democratic opposition, notes the US State Department’s annual human rights report. “The ruling party’s dominant control and manipulation of the political process through violence, intimidation, and corruption effectively negated the right of citizens to change their government,” the report states.

Leaders and supporters of opposition parties and civil society groups were killed, beaten, tortured, abducted and arrested. At the end of 2008, 32 citizens remained either in police custody without charge or were listed as missing

Zimbabwe has asked its southern African neighbors for $2bn (£1.4bn) to revive its collapsed economy. But foreign donors are refusing to cough up further aid until they are convinced that newly-appointed finance minister, Tendai Biti, is able to assert his authority over central bank governor, Gideon Gono, a crony of President Mugabe held responsible for the hyperinflation.

Iraq’s resilient civil society played key election role

The significant role played by democratic and civil society groups in ensuring Iraq’s provincial elections passed relatively smoothly is only now becoming clear. The February poll saw little violence and registered gains by non-sectarian secular forces as voters turned against religious parties widely perceived as corrupt and incompetent.

Grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, located across 16 provinces, conducted election monitoring and get-out-the-vote campaigns, working through the Tamouz, Shams and Iraqi Election Information networks. Many activists were working in areas that remain conflict-torn and sporadically violent, including Diyala, Mosul, Al Anbar, Salah Eddine, and Kirkuk.

Two grantees and leading women’s activists – Liza Hido, the president of the Baghdad Women’s Association and Zainab Sadiq, the president of Almustakbal, ran for office – in vain, this time around. Grantees engaged in monitoring were also featured on news media including, Aljazeera TV, Radio Sawa, and Alhurra TV.

The Alnour Universal Institute for Education played a leading role in Diyala, while the Iraqi Social Education Team monitored polling stations in the Karakh and Rosafa districts of Baghdad.

The Altahreer organization led monitoring efforts in Ninewah province, including hot spots like Mosul and Zamar.  The Hammurabi Human Rights and Democracy group spearheaded monitoring in Salah Eddine, Democracy and Social Support led in Kirkuk, while Iraqi Human Rights Watch covered monitoring in some districts across Karbala.

Democracy the antidote to jihadist radicalization, task force concludes

Ayman Nour: the Obama administration should increase resources for supporting democratic institutions and activists in the wider Middle East, a new report recommends

Ayman Nour: the Obama administration should increase resources for supporting democratic institutions and activists in the wider Middle East, a new report recommends

Democracy assistance is a critical factor in overcoming jihadist ideology but should be explicitly de-linked from counter-terrorism and national security policy, according to a new report out today. Substantial investment in counter-radicalization, “helping mainstream Muslims provide hopeful and practical alternatives” to jihadism should be a critical part of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy, a task force urged.

Democratic and economic reform in the Middle East “remains the best strategic response for overcoming the region’s deep structural challenges and reducing the pool of potential recruits to radical extremism,” it states.

It was recently argued that “the record is at best mixed whether promoting democracy has reduced terrorism [and] whether the magnitude of the threat merits the magnitude of effort the United States has expended. But the task force insists that the US and its democratic allies must provide a viable and attractive political alternative to the dark vision offered by radical extremist groups“:

Prosperous democratic societies that respect the rights of their citizens are more resilient and less susceptible to political instability and radicalization. If grievances can be expressed peacefully and mediated through democratic institutions, citizens are less apt to turn to more extreme options. Efforts to promote prosperity, democracy, and respect for human rights should, therefore, remain key aspects of this administration’s foreign policy agenda, even if the rhetoric describing it changes. The key is to do it better.

Annual U.S. government spending on democracy support and public diplomacy in the broader Middle East amounts to less than 1 percent of the Pentagon’s annual spending in Iraq. The Obama administration should double the resources available to the National Endowment for Democracy and the Middle East Partnership Initiative to continue their support for those “institutions and organizations that have a demonstrated track record in standing up to and competing with both violent and nonviolent extremists.”

Given that the sine qua non for more open societies is a free and independent press that can educate and inform citizens and highlight government malfeasance, the administration should also encourage organizations like the NED to “make media expansion a pillar of their programming and develop private-public partnerships to stimulate privately developed, independent media.”  

Rewriting the Narrative: An Integrated Strategy for Counterradicalization is the final report of the Task Force on Confronting the Ideology of Radical Extremism, a bipartisan, commission convened by  the Washington Institute’s Project FIKRA and Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. The report is endorsed by a distinguished and bi-partisan group of policy specialists, including members of Congress Jane Harman (D-CA); Sue Myrick (R-NC), and Adam Smith (D-WA); the presidents of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute Kenneth Wollack and Lorne W. Craner, respectively; Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor; president of the Progressive Policy Institute Will Marshall; Johns Hopkins SAIS adjunct professor Joshua Muravchik; and Washington Institute executive director Robert Satloff. The task force was convened by J. Scott Carpenter, Michael Jacobson, and Matthew Levitt of The Washington Institute.

Democracy should be de-linked from national security policy. Associating democracy assistance with counterterrorism, even citing it as a mission of the intelligence community in the U.S. National Intelligence Strategy, “has the unintended implication of hurting the ability of both U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations to play an effective role on the ground in supporting democracy and reform efforts, as it raises suspicion that the real purpose of the efforts is regime change.”

Film fest celebrates road to freedom

Check out this entertaining trailer for the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, an official cultural event of the Czech EU presidency, which takes place in Prague from 11th to 19th March. A selection of the movies will then be shown in Brussels and Washington, D.C.

One World reports:

In 2009, the Czech Republic and other Central European countries celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism. One World and its partner film festivals – DOK Leipzig, One World Bratislava, Verzio Budapest and Watch Docs Warsaw – will present documentary films from acclaimed Central European filmmakers which address the achievements, challenges and inevitable deceptions accompanying the road to freedom after years under a totalitarian regime. Stories of democratic transformation and the restoration of intellectual freedom, but also encounters with pragmatic capitalistic thinking and the ambiguous temptations of consumer society can be shared by all Central European countries. The films, presented in five thematic categories, are accompanied by articles which create contexts for the presented films and should stimulate discussions in an on-line forum.

The festival is organized by People in Need and held under the auspices of former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra and Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

The on-line special weekly presents one thematic bloc with several films, which are available for streaming in their full length for free. In total, 22 English-subtitled documentaries from Central Europe will appear online.

Already available to watch is the first thematic block Looking Back: Dealing with the Past includes classic films The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia by Jan Svankmajer, or Mein Bruder – We’ll Meet Again by Thomas Heise. The films are accompanied by thematic articles on the reunification of Germany and on attacks on the Polish ex-president Lech Walesa.

The second block Lessons in Parliamentary Democracy will look back at sources of disillusionment with political representation. The section features two films of the late Pavel Koutecky, known primarily as the author of the film Citizen Havel. The films cover the atmosphere of the first free elections and the break-up of Czechoslovakia.

One World presents approximately 120 films from all around the globe and seeks to promote documentary filmmaking of the highest quality on social and political issues. The main goals of the festival are to foster mutual understanding between cultures, to heighten public awareness about human rights, and to promote global responsibility. One World attracts an audience of over 100,000 viewers each year, which makes it one of the largest and most important human rights film festivals in Europe. In 2007, One World was awarded a UNESCO special mention for its contribution to human rights and peace education.

In addition to organizing the festival in Prague and the Czech Republic, One World is a driving force behind a cluster of smaller human rights festivals that are being held in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. One World has continued to lend support to non-governmental and cultural groups in other countries that want to organize their own human rights film screenings. One World is one of the founding members of Human Rights Film Network, which was established in Prague in 2004.

People in Need, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, is a Czech non-profit, non-governmental organization, which provides relief aid and development assistance, while working to defend human rights and democratic freedoms.  PIN is one of the largest organizations of its kind in post-communist Europe and has administered projects in more than forty countries over the past seventeen years. PIN came into existence in 1992 when dissidents and leaders of the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution teamed up with conflict journalists to form the Epicentrum Foundation (renamed People in Need in 1994) to continue working towards a better world.

Supporting China’s ‘cross-class’ democrats

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come under fire from human rights groups for apparently prioritizing economic issues and climate change on her recent trip to China. Some contend that in accepting Beijing’s insistence on “noninterference”, she fails civil society groups by implicitly condoning “the quintessential defense for rejecting human rights pressures.”

Others might concede that governments will inevitably face charges of hypocrisy or inconsistency because states, by their nature, must juggle competing interests and democracy cannot be the principal basis of foreign policy. Economic, security and other compelling strategic imperatives will sometimes eclipse human rights or other democratic issues.

Clinton’s visit coincided with a crackdown on human rights lawyers and the continued harassment of supporters of Charter 08, the dissident democratic manifesto. Charter 08 is especially significant, writes analyst Merle Goldman, because it “represents a multi-class movement for political change in China that is likely to continue”:

What makes Charter 08 different from past protests is that it crosses class lines. Past demonstrations were usually carried out by specific classes focused on particular economic issues, such as peasant protests against confiscation of their land by local officials or worker protests against nonpayment of salaries.