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

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs