Re-thinking Zimbabwe – as draft constitution ‘completed’

The final revision of Zimbabwe’s controversial draft constitution has been completed and will be officially launched next week, a highly placed source told SW Radio Africa.

The new charter is supposed to enshrine reform and transparency, but representatives of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change have struggled to compromise on such contentious issues as devolution and executive prerogatives.

Police in Bulawayo this week arrested over 100 members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA – right) coalition as they held a sit-in protest calling for the release of the draft Constitution.

Some observers fear that the Constitution Select Committee, or Copac, will fail to deliver a workable constitutional compromise.

“They are bickering mostly over the issue of executive structure, devolution and dual citizenship not for the benefit of Zimbabwe as a whole, but for their own satisfaction,” said Munjonzi Mutandiri, a South African based political analyst.

‘They are wasting time on these issues instead of agreeing and moving ahead. We may not be surprised if the 12 months set by SADC to resolve issues arrives without the country having a new constitution,” he said.

Civil society groups claim that the political parties failed to adopt an open, consultative approach to the constitutional drafting process which emerged from the power-sharing General Political Agreement (GPA).

The National Constitutional Assembly, a leading civil society group, is planning to mobilize for a no vote to the new constitution because it reflects the interests of the three main political parties and is not driven by the people, a meeting organized by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network heard this week:

[The NCA’s Professor Lovemore] Madhuku said that the political parties are in control of the process. He envisaged a scenario whereby the GPA principals might adopt the constitution without subjecting the draft to a Constitutional Referendum. He urged people to judge the COPAC draft on both the process and the content.

“The COPAC process is now an embarrassment to the political parties spearheading it. In maintaining their entrenched positions, the political parties are simply declaring an impasse and revealing a lot of problems in COPAC,” said Madock Chivasa, an NCA spokesman

“It will be equally embarrassing if COPAC fail to produce even a bad document considering the millions of donor funds they used in this bogus process. We maintain that a serious process of coming up with Zimbabwe’s constitution can only be achieved if all stakeholders are involved,” he said.

Civil Society groups complain that they have been unable to access funding from donors focused on the constitution making process.

Despite objections from ZANU-PF, members of the armed forces will be forbidden from taking part in active politics, a well-placed source told SW Radio Africa:

“All the contentious issues have been dealt with after the parties came up with suggestions that were acceptable to all. To show you how far things have moved, the negotiators are now dealing with transitional mechanisms, especially on how they will move from the current constitution to the next.

“In this regard, the posts of President and Prime Minister will remain in force until after the next elections when a new leader is inaugurated. This is meant not to create a power vacuum,” the source added.

The new charter will have an executive president answerable to Parliament and checked by a strengthened Judiciary. After nearly two weeks of negotiations over the contentious issues in a draft prepared by the parliamentary select committee, the negotiators also unanimously agreed to abolish the position of Prime Minister.

The new constitution is designed to redistribute political power away from the capital, Harare, to eight provincial councils created under devolution. Under the new system, the national government will provide a given percentage of budgets to the provincial legislature, which will comprise elected parliamentarians, senators and local council officials.

This Electoral College will recommend a governor whose appointment will be done by the President.

In the current constitution power is concentrated in the executive branch of government, which has seen Robert Mugabe unilaterally appoint high officials, including judges and governor of the Reserve Bank. But in the new system, parliamentarians will get involved in making appointments.

The new constitution will include provision for decentralization of authority, which has been fiercely resisted by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.

“There is an agreement of some sort,” said MDC national director for policy and research co-ordination Qhubani Moyo. “Over and above what has been reported, the agreement is that the 10 MPs who get to the provincial assembly through proportional representation will have power in that assembly.”

Under the deal agreed by the parties, the country’s 10 provinces will each have a provincial assembly made up of Members of Parliament and Senators, representatives of local authorities and 10 individuals elected by proportional representation as well as a provincial governor.

The provincial assembly will nominate two possible candidates for governor, which they will forward to the President who will choose from the two.

But Dumisani Mpofu, the director of Matabeleland-based civil society group Masakhaneni Trust, said the agreement was not acceptable.

“Our major concern is that the kind of devolution that they have agreed on is not devolution at all, but decentralisation,” he said.

Matabeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda director Effie Ncube said the agreement by the parties was “a victory for darkness”.

“It’s a victory for darkness, a victory for retrogressive forces, those that are opposed to equality and democracy,” he said.
The National Constitutional Assembly, WOZA and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy.

 

The World Movement for Democracy, the Solidarity Center,

and the National Endowment for Democracy cordially invite you to attend a conference on:

“Re-thinking Zimbabwe”

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

1025 F Street NW, 8th Floor

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation

by Friday, July 6th, 2012

With Zimbabwe’s constitutional reform process coming to an end, and preparations for a referendum and possible national elections being made, new political dynamics are taking hold and it is time for both Zimbabweans and the international community to reassess opportunities for democratic reform.

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Eskinder Nega verdict’s ‘chilling effect’ on free expression in Ethiopia

An Ethiopian court’s conviction of prominent journalist Eskinder Nega (left), along with several other dissidents and activists, on terrorism charges will have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, says the Obama administration.

“We condemn the convictions of Eskinder Nega and five other journalists who exercised their internationally recognized right to freedom of expression,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “With its ruling, the court has effectively criminalized free expression, trivialized the genuine threat of terrorism, and undermined the credibility of the judicial system in Ethiopia.”

Eskinder and opposition activists Andualem Arage were accused of invoking the “Arab Spring” revolts to spark protests against the government, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We are deeply concerned about the Ethiopian government’s conviction of a number of journalists and opposition members under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“The arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression,” she said. “We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society.”

A leading Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, Nega was recently awarded the prestigious the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

PEN said the verdict demonstrated a “shameful disdain for Ethiopia’s obligations to its citizens and to international law.”

Nega’s case has drawn attention to the Ethiopian regime’s appalling human rights record and Western democracies’ complicity, say observers.

“America and its Western allies have aligned themselves closely with Ethiopia’s government in the fight against radical Islamists in the Horn of Africa and in efforts to prevent a repeat of the 1984–1985 famine,” said several leading supporters of Nega. “Worthy as these goals are, we should not allow them to blind us to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s increasingly authoritarian bent—as exhibited by his regime’s 99.6 percent election victory in 2010 and most recently the decision to prosecute Eskinder as a terrorist, along with seven other dissidents.”

Nega’s supporters include US Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, who called for up to $500,000 of US aid to Ethiopia’s military to be potentially withheld, depending on the Ethiopian government’s respect for freedom of expression

“That means enabling journalists like Eskinder Nega to do their work of reporting and peaceful political participation,” he said in a congressional statement on June 14.

For additional reporting on media and freedom of expression, check out the Center for International Media Assistance, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Promoting Iraqi Investigative Journalism Online

China’s Bloggers are Taking Risks and Pushing for Change, One Click at a Time

Past Enemies Look Toward a Collaborative Future in Myanmar

Deadly Attack Launched on Syrian TV Station

Uganda: Government Should Desist from Infringing on Freedom of Expression and Association

Most Brazilian Journalists Use Twitter to Spread News, New Study Shows

Ethiopia: Terrorism Law Used to Crush Free Speech – Donors Should Condemn Verdicts, Demand Legal Reforms

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Putin’s regime ‘on its way out’ – but won’t go quietly

With a new poll indicating that only 15% of Russians fully support Vladimir Putin’s views, it is evident that “cracks are forming in Russian society, threatening the status quo,” says a leading analyst.

But the Kremlin’s strategy of discrediting or co-opting liberal actors is promoting illiberal and making a non-violent democratic transition increasingly less likely, says Lilia Shevtsova, a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow.

Some 21 percent of Russian citizens have strongly negative emotions towards Putin’s return, including a “sense of worry and hopelessness,” “fear,” “shame,” “anger,” and “outrage,” according to a new poll by the Levada Center.

The number of Putin supporters is steadily declining, according to the poll results, published on Monday in Vedomosti:

Respondents prepared to support Putin while he still plans to carry out democratic and market reforms numbered 26 percent, compared with 29 percent in 2011 and 30 percent in 2010.

The number of those disappointed in Putin grew from 11 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2012. The same number said they support him just because there is no other alternative. Another 14 percent do not support Putin at all, and 7 percent are unsatisfied but still have a certain amount of hope in him.

About 43 percent believe that the quality of life in Russia will improve during Putin’s six-year term and that the country will become considered one of the most highly developed. Almost the same number, 41 percent, do not believe that such development is possible and are pessimistic about the next six years.

“It is impossible to predict when Russia will detonate, but the system’s fissures are undeniable – and growing,” writes Shevtsova. “The Kremlin, far from being able to control the situation, does not fully grasp what is happening. Russia is moving toward a precipice.”

The Kremlin is contributing to its own violent demise, intentionally demoralizing Russian society. It discredits liberalism by employing liberal rhetoric and appointing liberal leaders to administer its authoritarian rule, leaving political opposition to leftist parties and nationalists.

And Putin’s return to the Stalinist practice of sending police to search opponents’ homes, combined with his attempts to ignite hostility between social groups – for example, between provincial Russia and the urban middle class – is deepening antagonism and distrust among citizens. In this way, Putin’s regime intensifies political dissenters’ longing for retaliation – thereby hindering peaceful change.

But cracks are forming in Russian society, threatening the status quo. And it is not the opposition or a popular rebellion that are beginning to destabilize Putin’s regime, but the very forces that have helped to keep it afloat.

After waiting 12 years for change from the top, Russians finally understand that their political system can be transformed only from the bottom – through popular revolution. In the absence of institutional channels for expression of their grievances over the corrupt concessions that have preserved the ruling elite’s power, they must take to the streets.

By censoring the media, discrediting moderate opposition, and provoking popular discontent, Putin is playing with fire. …..Yet Putin’s Kremlin continues to work tirelessly to prevent the formation of a strong opposition – increasing the risk that the regime will collapse without a viable alternative. The longer Putin remains in power, the more devastating his regime’s final act will be.

Both Russia and the West must begin to plan ahead. Regrettably, Russia’s awakening corresponds with the beginning of the West’s seeming decline. Still, rather than remaining complicit in Putin’s corrupt regime, the West must help the Russian people to seek their new destiny.

RTWT

Almost two-thirds of Russians fear new terrorist attacks in large cities and view the situation in the North Caucasus republics as tense, a new Levada poll released Wednesday shows.

Levada Center pollsters found that 60 percent of respondents anticipated new terrorist bombings, while 70 percent feared that loved ones could perish in such attacks, Interfax reported. Twenty percent held no such fears.

In other findings, 8 percent said the situation in the North Caucasus was critical and explosive, 15 percent saw conditions deteriorating and 59 percent expected little change in the near future.

Only 21 percent of respondents viewed the North Caucasus as calm, with 11 percent anticipating the security threat in the region would lessen.

The Levada Center is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Asia’s Market-Leninists square up

Credit: BBC

Are Asia’s leading Communist-led states squaring up for armed conflict?

China today started “combat ready” patrols in disputed waters in the South China Sea, as a leading Vietnamese dissident called for nationwide protests on Sunday 1st July to press Hanoi’s Communist authorities to take a firm stand against Chinese expansionism and protect Vietnam’s territorial integrity.

The call for action by Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, was sent clandestinely from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery where he is under de facto house arrest, according to Quê Me : Action for Democracy in Vietnam, the Paris-based rights group:

This appeal is prompted by the recent invitation by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation for international bids on nine oil and gas lots which are situated deep inside Vietnam’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. At the same time, the Chinese media has launched a series of threats against Vietnam, demanding that the National Assembly “rectify its errors” by repealing the recently-adopted Law of the Sea which affirms Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry insists that the lots are entirely within the Vietnamese continental shelf and said Beijing’s declaration violates the country’s sovereign rights, jurisdiction and national interests.

“There is no way any foreign company will go there,” said Laban Yu, head of oil and gas research at Jefferies Hong Kong Ltd., a securities and investment banking firm. “This is just Cnooc being used by the central government to make a statement,” told the Wall Street Journal:

The spat looks set to further shake relations between Vietnam and China, which, while both having Communist governments, view each other with suspicion. Relations between the two countries worsened after Hanoi’s legislature passed a new law last week claiming Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels archipelagos, which are also in the South China Sea.

The stakes in the South China Sea have grown significantly in recent years as East Asia’s energy-hungry economies roar ahead. For China, the energy resources that geologists believe to lie below its waters are means to potentially reduce its dependence on imports from the Middle East and elsewhere. …….China, Vietnam and the Philippines all have stepped up exploration and drilling in the sea in recent years. Earlier this week, Italy’s Eni SpA bought 50% stakes in two exploration blocks in Vietnamese-controlled waters. Eni’s partner, Australia’s Neon Energy Ltd., said Monday that Eni will carry out early technical work and finance exploratory drilling in each block. ExxonMobil Corp. also has acquired Vietnamese blocks in the South China Sea. Last October it said it found oil and gas in its second exploration well.

In addition to China and Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim parts of the South China Sea. The U.S. in recent years has angered China by urging multilateral talks to resolve the overlapping claims in the area, and also to ensure safe navigation for some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes as China’s commercial and military power grows.

Quê Me : Action for Democracy in Vietnam is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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US must change ‘erratic’, ‘short-sighted’ approach to Yemen

Yemen’s government is struggling to assert its authority, as humanitarian crises and burgeoning insurgencies threaten the country’s tentative transition, a leading UN official warned today.  

His comments coincided with a warning from a leading UK intelligence official that Yemen was one arena in which the Arab awakening has created “a permissive environment for al Qaeda” and an independent group of Yemeni experts called on the Obama administration to “recalibrate its economic and governance assistance” and adopt a more strategic approach that “expands beyond the narrow lens of counterterrorism.”

“This is the first time in Yemen’s history that all the different factions, political trends, [and] social groups will meet to look at the big challenges facing Yemen,” says Jamal Benomar (above), Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen.

The democratic transition faces serious challenges, including violent insurgency, and acute food and water shortages. But the transition provides an opportunity for  Yemenis to conduct “an inclusive dialogue, develop a new social contract leading to a new constitution and then elections to be held by the end of the transition period in February 2014,” he says.

USAID Administrator Raj Shah this week announced plans to provide up to $52 million dollars in additional assistance to Yemen, raising total humanitarian and development assistance this year to $170 million dollars. The announcement followed a recent visit to Yemen and consultations with local government officials, civil society groups and humanitarian organizations to discuss assistance, restoring civilian authority and essential public services, and rebuilding infrastructure.

But the Yemen Policy Initiative, a group of Washington policy analysts is calling on the Obama administration to adopt “a broader approach” to assisting Yemen’s transition “that places emphasis on the underlying economic and political problems will better serve the stability of Yemen and, accordingly, (US) national security interests, rather than a primary focus on counter-terrorism efforts and direct military involvement.” The twenty-seven independent analysts and commentators propose that the US “should recalibrate its economic and governance assistance so that it represents a greater proportion of overall assistance compared with military and security assistance [and] ensure that its focus is on achieving long-term goals, not only short-term objectives.”

The open letter, an initiative organized by the Project for Middle East Democracy and the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, seeks to advance a more sustainable, long-term U.S. policy that both guarantees U.S. national security interests and supports Yemen’s political transition.  It calls on the Obama administration to:

Increase assistance to international and local organizations that support the transition and democratic institution-building and establish a culture of pluralism and rule of law.

Unlike many of its neighbors, civil society in Yemen has a history of engagement on issues of youth and women’s empowerment, civic education, constitutional development, legal reform, political party development, and elections assistance. These organizations need increased and sustained funding streams to allow for strategic planning and technical assistance from international organizations.

Support the National Dialogue and encourage representation of a broad range of diverse voices, including women and youth. Yemen is currently working to define the parameters and the mechanics of the national dialogue that was mandated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement. A coordinated approach by international actors to provide assistance and momentum for a genuinely inclusive process will be essential. The US can help set the tone by reaching out more broadly to civil society groups and youth, particularly outside of Sana’a and Aden.

Assist the Yemeni government’s capacity to deliver basic services and meet the minimum needs of its citizens. The government’s capacity to provide adequate access to food, water, electricity, health care, and education is essential for Yemen to succeed in this transitional period and, more immediately, to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The Yemeni government will need to meet the needs of its people more effectively if it is to counter the appeal of extremists by improving the basic quality of life and advancing sustainable development projects.

The bipartisan letter includes signatories from a range of backgrounds including Barbara Bodine, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen; Andrew Natsios, former Administrator of USAID; Emile Nakhleh, former Director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program; David Kramer of Freedom House; Rahman Aljabouri, Senior Program Officer, National Endowment for Democracy; Steven Heydemann of Georgetown University; and Andrew Exum of the Center for New American Security.

Some observers believe the administration is becoming embroiled in counter-insurgency efforts at the expense of addressing the underlying grievances and causes of potential state failure. “The real essence [of the letter] was that we have a new government in Yemen, and what we need to do is recalibrate or rebalance the relationship to make it clear to both the Yemenis and to the American people that our interests and the focus of our efforts there are not solely AQAP,” former U.S. ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine told The Cable. “Al Qaeda is a short-term, immediate issue … we need to took to the medium-term and long-term.”

Over the decades, “US attention and assistance has waxed and waned, buffeted by events that have often had very little bearing on Yemen itself,” Bodine told a Washington meeting this week. “Our economic assistance swings wildly, our military assistance has been very erratic, and our diplomatic rhetoric towards Yemen has also been inconsistent,” she said, calling on Washington to move “beyond clichéd incantations of current policy dynamics.”

The Arab revolts in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt raise the prospect of a more democratic Middle East, but they also mean that “parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for al Qaeda,” said the UK’s Security Service Director General Jonathan Evans.

“A small number of British would-be jihadis are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen. Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here.”

“This is a new and worrying development and could get worse,” said Evans, a head of the UK’s domestic intelligence service since April 2007.

Yemen is also struggling with politically vexed issues of transitional justice arising from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, agreed by the country’s key political factions, that calls for “measures to ensure that violations of human rights and humanitarian law do not occur in the future.”

In June 2012 the UN Security Council urged the Yemeni government “to pass legislation on transitional justice to support national reconciliation without further delay,” the International Center for Transitional Justice reports:

The text of the proposed Law on Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation had been amended after some public consultation, but the cabinet failed to reach consensus on its adoption. The law is now with President ‘Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who has the authority under the GCC initiative either to adopt the law immediately or sent it to Parliament for debate.

The latest text of the draft law provides for a truth commission to look into abuses going back to 1990. However, one of its clauses allows for investigation of prior events if individuals are still suffering the consequences of violations which took place before 1990.

The commission will also develop a reparations program for victims, ranging from material compensation to apologies and memorials, and make recommendations for institutional reforms. It is to be composed of 11 members, 30 percent of whom should be women, and work for a term of four years which could be extended by further two years. It would have the authority to compel testimony or the release of documents, and would publish draft reports inviting comments from civil society organizations and the public at large.

The draft transitional justice law incorporates Law No. 1 of 2012 which precludes the prosecution of former president ‘Ali Abdullah Saleh and his associates, shielding them from criminal accountability for breaches of international law. This immunity was a condition of the GCC agreement endorsed by the Security Council, although it breaches international law and Yemen’s international human rights obligations. There has been considerable opposition within civil society to this immunity.

“While regretting the Immunity Law which shields possible perpetrators of serious abuses from criminal accountability, we welcome the fact that the draft law on transitional justice addresses the importance of truth-seeking and reparations, as well as the recognition of the need for institutional reform,” said Claudio Cordone, program director at ICTJ.

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