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Constitution Meetings Spark Human Rights Abuses in Zimbabwe

  • Peta Thornycroft

As public involvement in creating a new constitution for Zimbabwe draws to a close, a rights group reports the process has sparked increased human-rights violations. The Zimbabwe Peace Project says ZANU-PF supporters were the main perpetrators of intimidation at the outreach program.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project's latest report covered many incidents of intimidation, abductions, arrests, threats and destruction of private property, mainly against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change Party, which has been in a unity government President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF since February 2009.

Mr. Mugabe's and MDC leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai signed a political agreement two years ago, in which they pledged to ensure Zimbabwe had a new constitution before the next elections.

According to public-affairs watchdog, Veritas, nearly 4,000 public meetings about the constitution have taken place since mid-June, Attended by more than 700,000 people. Veritas has regularly reported on infrastructure problems, mostly associated with inadequate funding encountered by the ambitious outreach project.

A Movement for Democratic Change report has recorded some of the most disturbing incidents at the outreach meetings. It says its members have been abducted, scores have been assaulted, and that at least 50 party members have been arrested, since the outreach began.

Ten days ago, all public meetings about the constitution were stopped in Harare after violence erupted and the MDC reported one of its supporters was killed. Those meetings, the last in the process, have been rescheduled and should conclude by Monday.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project said it has monitors around the country and they have witnessed many acts of physical intimidation at public meetings, particularly in rural areas. the group reports the worst incidents have taken place in the eastern Manicaland Province.

Its latest report, which covered constitution outreach meetings in August, said ZANU-PF supporters, often supported by traditional leaders, had disrupted many gatherings. It concluded that although political violence has subsided dramatically since the unity government came to power, a resurgence of human-rights abuses emerged in the Last three months at meetings to discuss a new constitution.

One committee member in the outreach process who spoke to VOA on condition that his identity was not revealed, said some of the outreach meetings turned into political rallies. He said it became clear during this process, that ZANU-PF youth and MDC youth cannot be in the same room together. He said some MDC members had also disrupted some meetings.

ZANU-PF party spokesmen were not available for comment. But in the state media, controlled by ZANU-PF, several party leaders have recently denied disrupting outreach meetings.

Public information gathered at outreach meetings is to be presented as a report to the committee of legislators managing the constitution process. Many political analysts say the constitution will be written by constitutional experts, and there will be heavy negotiations between the MDC and ZANU-PF.

ZANU-PF supporters have made it clear they want the enormous range of presidential powers vested in Mr. Mugabe entrenched in a new constitution. MDC supporters want presidential powers cut to a minimum, and political and policy decisions to be determined by elected legislators.