As Zimbabwe rights advocate arrested, crackdown ‘an unsettling reminder’ of ZANU-PF violence

Pro-democracy and human rights advocates have denounced the detention of a leading Zimbabwean activist.

Okay Machisa (left), director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) is the most recent victim of a concerted crackdown on civil society activists in the run- up to the election later this year.

Machisa was due in court today to face charges “scanning voter registration certificates with false names and misrepresenting that these people had been registered as voters”.

The continued harassment of civil society leaders in Zimbabwe who are going about their work, is an affront to democracy and a threat to a free and fair electoral environment. It must stop,” said Jameson Timba, a minister in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office.

The onslaught on civil society was a ploy by Zanu PF to prohibit fresh voter registrations because the former sole ruling party had already registered its supporters, according to Theresa Makone, the Home Affairs co-minister.

“Since August of last year, nearly a dozen organizations—including Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Counseling Services Unit, and the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe—have experienced harassment in the form of office raids, multiple arrests, and physical abuse at the hands of police, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights reports:

Political violence, human rights abuses, and intimidation against civil society activists are nothing new in the lead up to Zimbabwean elections. During the nation’s previous election cycle in 2008, when President Robert Mugabe’s hold on the presidency was threatened by voters, more than 300 members from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were reportedly killed, and countless more civic activists were abducted, tortured, and disappeared by the police, security forces, and associated militias. With elections once again on the horizon, it is of paramount importance for the Zimbabwean government to cultivate an environment that is conducive to peace, social cohesion, and free and fair polls.

“The increasingly brazen steps to block civic activism are an unsettling reminder of the violence and intimidation that has marred past elections,” said Santiago A. Canton, the RFK Center’s Director of Partners for Human Rights. “In December, President Mugabe resolved to deregister so-called ‘errant’ civic groups that ‘deviate from their mandate’ during his annual political party conference in December.”

“The international community, and in particular, leaders from the Southern African Development Community, must urge the government of Zimbabwe to immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against civil society organizations and human rights activists,” he added.

Zimrights is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Loss of democracy triggered Mali crisis

Sub-Saharan Africa’s “frail democracies too often fall victim to corruption, social division, greed and dictatorship,” says analyst Landry Signé:

The world needs to add another “responsibility to protect” — a duty of democratic nations to safeguard popular rule in neighboring lands. The failure this year to protect and restore democracy in Mali is a perfect case in point. Less than a year after a coup last March, Mali has slid into a devilish civil war and national breakup accompanied by reports of war crimes, atrocities and crimes against humanity.

So, how can the concept of responsibility to protect democracy be further developed? she asks in The New York Times:

Where institutions and traditions prove no match for a crisis of democracy, the region or the continent should step in. The African Union’s charter already empowers that organization to intervene to prevent war crimes and genocide, and it condemns “unconstitutional changes of government.” Such ideals need to be invoked boldly and quickly; that may be the strongest argument for a new doctrine of a responsibility to protect democracy, with a protocol for military or other forms of firm coercion when diplomacy fails.

In addition, the International Criminal Court should announce that it will seek to punish all those responsible for any coup d’état that results in war crimes or crimes against humanity. In Mali and across Africa, the evidence shows that a failure of democracy is all too likely to lead quickly to such crimes.

Landry Signé is a fellow in the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University.


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Corporate responsibility coalitions can aid Burma’s transition

Business-led coalitions played important roles in South Africa’s and Indonesia’s tdemocratic ransitions as a valuable part of the “architecture” promoting responsible business practices, writes David Grayson.

It has not just political leaders and business people who have been rushing to Burma. Civil society leaders too have been busy. Among these, is the excellent Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), which has embarked on a multi-year project to help ensure that existing and new investments in Burma are consistent with international human rights standards and best practices.

IHRB have appointed a project manager in Yangon (Rangoon) and established a resource centre in Burma to provide information on corporate legal obligations and operational responsibilities.

A valuable briefing paper, Responsible Investment in Burma: The Human Rights dimension, provides a potted recent history of the country; the political, economic and social challenges Burma now faces; and the major issues that any inward investors will face such as corruption, unclear land rights, and finding local business partners not contaminated by association with the dictatorship and/or linked to human rights abuses.

The IHRB guide should help investors to ensure that at every step, they are monitoring their progress against international human rights frameworks (also known as the Ruggie Framework).

It may well be that at an appropriate moment, a coalition of responsible businesses operating in Burma could play an important role in supporting the democratic transition, building the enabling environment for a functioning market economy, and advancing sustainable development.

A Burma corporate responsibility forum, supported by one or more of the international corporate responsibility coalitions, could help both indigenous Burma businesses and international companies moving into/returning to Burma. Such a forum might help to promote relevant international standards and sectoral good practice, as well as providing a safe space where issues specific to Burma can be explored and good practice tested.

This extract is taken from a longer post in The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Blog


David Grayson is professor of Corporate Responsibility and director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management.

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