At a strategic consultation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the National Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders adopted its 2024 Action Plan to enhance support for defenders amid shrinking civic space and heightened State focus on terrorism.
In a statement presented to the Human Rights Council earlier today, ISHR and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights expressed grave concern regarding the continued targeting of human rights defenders by State actors in Zimbabwe.
The call came during the adoption of recommendations made to Zimbabwe as part of its second Universal Periodic Review – a mechanism pursuant to which each UN Member States’ human rights situation is examined by all other UN Member States every five years.
The statement expressed concern about the hundreds of defenders in Zimbabwe currently facing prosecution following their arrest for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and association between May and November 2016. ‘Not only are these defenders still awaiting the finalisation of their trials, but the right to freedom of association remains under serious threat due to the imposition of additional legal requirements,’ said ISHR Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy.
‘It is deplorable that the Zimbabwean Government continues to restrict defenders’ rights, particularly in the context of the 2013 Constitution which enshrines the rights to freedom of assembly and expression’, McEvoy continued. ‘To add to existing restrictions, the Government is currently drafting a Cyber Crimes Bill which, if passed, will further curtail the right to freedom of expression and privacy; and will further impede the work of defenders.’
The statement urged the Government of Zimbabwe to:
- Review legislation to ensure compliance with international obligations, particularly regarding the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including the Cyber Crimes Bill, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- Respect and uphold the Constitutional compatibly with international human rights law, guarantee and safeguard the independence of the judiciary, and support other institutions that play a vital role in protecting human rights.
- Implement programs to promote and disseminate the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and adopt national legislation for its effective implementation.
- Issue standing invitations to the special procedures, particularly the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
These recommendations echoed those set out in a briefing paper prepared by the ISHR, in conjunction with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Lawyers for Lawyers, Zimbabwe, as a submission to Zimbabwe’s Universal Periodic Review.
Watch the statement live here.
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