Heal Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The special day is commemorated annually on the 30th of August. The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances was passed under resolution 65/209 on 21 December 2010 which expressed great concern on the rising cases of involuntary disappearances. This culminated in the adoption of the International Convention for the protection of all Persons of Enforced Disappearances where 30 August was declared as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
The commemoration of this important day serves to remind states on the need to enact specific laws that protect citizens against the crime of enforced disappearance. This can only be achieved through investigating reports of enforced disappearance and bringing those responsible to justice. Other obligations are rather of a preventive nature, such as the obligation to detain persons only in officially approved and monitored institutions in which all prisoners are registered and the absolute right to legal services through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention.
Article 1 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance highlight that “no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance”. Enforced Disappearances remain a crime that is not only degrading but generate insecurity among affected persons. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) (also known as the Banjul Charter), a regional human rights instrument is also a tool meant to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms on the African continent. Article 4 of the ACHPR highlight that “human rights are inviolable” hence every human being shall be entitled to respect for life and integrity. Further to this, Article 23 of the charter also highlight that “all people shall have the right to national and international peace and security”. For Zimbabwe however, the commemoration of this important day is taking place at a time when the country has been hit by a series targeted abductions of political activists. What is rather disturbing is that besides having international and regional legal instruments that prohibit enforced disappearances, Zimbabwe continues to record a spike in cases of enforced disappearances. The August 1 2018 post elections demonstration in Harare, which witnessed the gunning down of 6 unarmed people by members of the security services was followed by abductions of prominent political activists. During the January 2019 demonstrations, the state also used abductions as a tool meant to target activists. More recently, on the eve of the 16 August 2019 Movement for Democratic (MDC) Alliance demonstrations, Citizens Manifesto coordinator, Tatenda Mombeyarara and Blessing Kanotunga, the MDC Youth Chairperson for Mufakose District were abducted by unknown assailants. In the subsequent days that followed, several MDC Alliance activists were abducted across the country as well as comedian, Samantha Kureya.
What is rather worrisome is the lack of political will by the government to ratify key conventions that speak to issues relating to state obligations in as far as prevention of enforced disappearance of citizens is concerned. Conventions that Zimbabwe is yet to ratify include the United Nations Convention against Torture or Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT), the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances as well as the Rome Stature among others. To date, pro Democracy activist, Itai Dzamara who was abducted on 9 March 2015, remains unaccounted for. Abductions remain a gross human rights violation that must be condemned as it is not only degrading but barbaric and a bad practice. Enforced disappearances remain a serious violation of human rights and a crime. Section 53 of the Constitution provides for freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Such fundamental human rights and freedoms are to be enjoyed by every citizen without selective application. The occasion of this important day offers an opportunity for the government to expedite the search for Missing persons particularly Itai Dzamara whose search was ordered by the High Court. Heal Zimbabwe implores the state to stop using abductions as a tool to deal with political opponents. In light of the growing discontent in the country evidenced by the persistent protests taking place countrywide, Heal Zimbabwe implores government to explore peaceful and non-violent means to address citizens concerns such as dialogue.