Gen. Chiwenga must account for people detained after coup against Mugabe, says human rights group

New Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, is implicated in Robert Mugabe’s 1980s Gukurahundi massacre of an estimated 20,000 ethnic Ndebele people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces of Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Wikipedia/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Obert Madondo |  | Nov 24, 2017

Human Right Watch is calling on Gen. Constantino Chiwenga and the Zimbabwean military to uphold the human rights of several people detained after last week’s unprecedented military coup against former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.

Gen. Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), led the coup which ended Mugabe’s 37-year hold on the Southern African country. Mugabe, 93, had led Zimbabwe since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980. He resigned Tuesday.

A military statement read by a Major General SB Moyo on TV after the military takeover stated that army was “targeting criminals” around Mugabe, who “were committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country”.

Since then, the military has arrested several prominent members of the so-called G40, a faction of the ruling Zanu PF party that had supported former first lady Grace Mugabe’s bid to succeed her husband. Those detained or still missing include former finance minister Ignatius Chombo, former higher education minister Jonathan Moyo, and Saviour Kasukuwere, the former minister of Local Government, Rural Development and National Housing. Former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko has not been heard from since the coup.

“Zimbabwe authorities should uphold the rights of everyone detained following the military takeover of the government on November 15, 2017,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement released Wednesday. “The military should publicly acknowledge the identities and location of everyone arrested and detained, and ensure that their due process rights, including access to lawyers and family members, are respected.”

On Friday, Reuters reported that Chombo had just been hospitalized “with injuries sustained from beatings he received in military custody”.

“The military should clear the air about any arrests across Zimbabwe and hand over any criminal suspects to the appropriate civilian authorities according to law,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Failing to disclose the whereabouts of those detained is an enforced disappearance that places detainees at greater risk of abuse.”

Earlier this week, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expressed “apprehension and concern” about “disconcerting media reports that during Operation Restore Legacy there may be some arrests and detention of people following the announcement made by Major General Sibusiso Moyo on 15 November 2017.” The ZLHR reminded the ZDF of “their obligation to ensure full compliance with the constitutional guarantees protecting human rights and the rule of law.”

Section 50 of the Zimbabwean constitution provides for the pre-trial rights of detainees. The consitution also guarantees freedom from torture and cruel or inhuman treatment. Zimbabwe is also party to several international instruments guaranteeing the right to personal liberty and due process, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Section 6 of the African Charter which states:

Every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained.

Human rights activists fear a continuation of the violence that characterized Mugabe’s reign during the new “dispensation” led by Emmerson Mnangwangwa, who was inaugurated Friday. Mnangagwa, 75, is implicated in Mugabe’s 1980s Gukurahundi massacre of an estimated 20,000 ethnic Ndebele people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces of Zimbabwe.

“The end of Mugabe’s 37 years of abusive rule should not be marked by continued rights violations,” Mavhinga said. “Respect for the rule of law and due process for anyone in detention would signal a clean break with the past.”

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian ProgressiveZimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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