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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid