News / Africa

After Constitution Vote, Zimbabwe Faces Human Rights Challenges

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe talks to the press after casting his vote during the country's referendum in the capital Harare, March, 16, 2013.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe talks to the press after casting his vote during the country's referendum in the capital Harare, March, 16, 2013.
Anita Powell
Zimbabwe’s people have approved a new constitution which paves the way for presidential elections.  

The charter, which contains a bill of rights and imposes term limits for the president and certain security officials, is supposed to give more power to citizens in the southern African nation.

However, the vote was almost immediately followed by arrests of high-profile opponents of President Robert Mugabe. Critics accuse the government of cracking down on civil society groups, a clear sign, they say, that things are getting worse, not better.  

Officials who campaigned in favor of the constitution said it is an opportunity for Zimbabweans to finally have their own charter after decades of using a document created by their former colonial ruler.

Election officials said Tuesday that about 95 percent of voters approved the new charter. Observers said the vote was peaceful and the results credible, though  Mugabe banned Western observers from monitoring the vote.

“Anybody who has read this constitution will agree with me that the bill of rights in this constitution will measure up to any constitution in the world," says Eric Matinenga, the nation’s minister of constitutional and parliamentary affairs. "So we can be happy as Zimbabweans that we have managed to adopt this draft.”

But beneath this liberal document lies a fundamental truth: a constitution is only as strong as the government that upholds it.

On Sunday, police arrested Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's chief legal adviser and three members of his staff. Then they arrested the adviser’s lawyer when she showed up at his home, and charged her with “obstruction of justice.” Police then refused to heed a high court order to release her by midnight Sunday.
 
Tiseke Kasambala, Africa Advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, views those arrests, and other signs of election-related violence, as a signal the constitution may not change anything.

“Zimbabweans may have more rights on paper, but the conditions on the ground have not improved at all," Kasambala says. "In fact, the space for civic activism and political activism is narrowing as the country goes towards possible elections later in the year. Attacks on civil society organizations have increased. In fact, since December, we have seen an escalation in police harassment, arrest and rape of officers of civil society organizations.”

The constitution’s promoters have noted several important changes, including presidential term limits of two five-year terms. But that provision is not retroactive, meaning Mugabe, who is 89, could serve for another decade.  

The charter also eliminates the prime minister's post held by Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader who is Mugabe's main political rival. The two men are expected to face off again in a presidential election slated for later this year.
 
Despite the arrests, a South Africa-based spokesman for the MDC says the constitution has created something priceless: hope.

"After this constitution, maybe in the next three or four months, we are then going for elections," Kwanele Moyo. "Come the election time, I promise, I can promise, there will be a new government. And this new government is going to respect the democratic values of the society. And that’s going to be the new MDC government.”

Zimbabweans living in South Africa, like Moyo, often say that in Zimbabwe they were not able to speak out against Mugabe’s government. But in a way, the nation’s voters did just that.

The official results of the Saturday referendum voting mean that more than half of them stayed home, an absence that may send its own message.

VOA's Sebastian Mhofu contributed to this report.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bob from: Philadelphia
March 19, 2013 3:39 PM
Ian Smith's Rhodesia was correct over 30 years ago. One man, one vote, effectively, one time.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs