ON International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) strongly condemns the deplorable practice of enforced disappearances.
While the prohibition of enforced disappearances and torture should be absolute under all circumstances, it is disconcerting that in Zimbabwe, this core principle continues to be undermined as on the eve of commemorations to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the family of Nelson Mukwenha, a Harare resident, was struggling to ascertain the whereabouts of a family member, after he was forcibly abducted and disappeared on Saturday 26 August 2023 by about four unidentified men from his residence in Highfield high-density suburb and bundled into a Toyota Hilux vehicle with no registration number plates.
Efforts by Mukwenha’s wife and her lawyers from ZLHR to ascertain his whereabouts failed to yield anything as law enforcement agents at four police stations professed ignorance of his whereabouts.
Mukwenha was only located on Monday 28 August 2023 after he was severely tortured and dumped at some place in Mashonaland West province and had to be hospitalised after his horrendous ordeal.
ZLHR condemns this heinous treatment of Mukwenha at the hands of his abductors.
Mukwenha’s incident is not isolated. In June 2020, some United Nations human rights experts reported that 49 cases of abductions and torture were recorded in Zimbabwe in 2019 without investigations leading to perpetrators being held accountable.
It is critical for perpetrators to understand that enforced disappearance is a cruel practice that causes ineffaceable pain to victims, survivors and families.
In addition to ill-treating and inflicting suffering on victims, families who go through the untold anguish of losing loved ones and having no idea of their whereabouts or safety, endure other long-term effects, including violating various economic, social and cultural rights.
While in section 53, the Constitution expressly outlaws torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the lack of legislation that criminalises abductions and enforced disappearances has created a gap in domestic law and has fuelled impunity.
This buttresses the urgent need for Zimbabwean authorities to create a legal framework to prevent the commission of this grave human rights violation, including providing redress for victims and survivors and implementing real and practical measures to hold perpetrators accountable and provide access to justice to victims and their families.
Since Zimbabwe is a signatory to several regional and international instruments aimed at protecting, promoting, respecting and upholding fundamental human rights, it is germane for authorities to expeditiously ratify and domesticate the Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances as advocated and recommended by United Nations member states during successive reviews of the country’s human rights record following the Human Rights Council-led Universal Periodic Review mechanism and by some key stakeholders at some sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In order to arrest and prevent the prevalent climate of impunity that has allowed the heinous crime of abductions and enforced disappearances to continue in Zimbabwe, ZLHR calls upon both state and non-state actors including government to;
- Account for and ascertain the whereabouts of all the missing victims of enforced disappearances including well-known human rights defenders such as Itai Dzamara, Patrick Nabanyana and Paul Chizuze;
- Ratify and domesticate the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
- Criminalise enforced disappearances as a standalone offence under domestic law and provide appropriate penalties that recognise the seriousness of the crime;
- Enable victims of enforced disappearances or any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to lodge complaints and ensure that their complaints are promptly and adequately probed;
- Take effective measures to prevent enforced disappearances, probe crimes of enforced disappearance, and hold those responsible to account;
- Ensure that survivors and victims’ families receive reparations, including compensation, rehabilitation, restitution and a guarantee of non-recurrence.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
No. 103 Sam Nujoma Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: (+263 8677005347, +263 242 764085/705370/708118
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