Memorandum from the Commonwealth Human
1. The Trustee Committee of the Commonwealth
Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) based in London comprises representatives
of the eight Commonwealth non-governmental bodies which support
the Initiative, with other experts. The CHRI is recognised as
the premier non-governmental organisation concerned to promote
human rights in the 54 member states. It has a staff of nearly
30 in three officesNew Delhi (currently the head office),
Accra and London. The Trustee Committee, in consultation with
the Director of the CHRI, who is Indian, and with the Chair of
the International Advisory Commission, who is Australian, has
been responsible for making a series of submissions on the Zimbabwe
crisis to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and others
over the last two years.
2. From the middle of 2001 the CHRI advocated
the suspension of the Mugabe regime from the Commonwealth unless
it returned to the 1991 Harare Principles of just and accountable
government, the rule of law and fundamental human rights. Sadly
this has yet to happen. The CHRI therefore welcomed the decision
of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to adopt Zimbabwe
as a case, in December 2001, and the decision in March by the
troika of leaders to suspend the regime following the flawed presidential
election. The Initiative believes that the Commonwealth achieved
an important human rights breakthrough, in recognising that serious
abuse by a civilian government could lead to its suspension.
3. The Initiative has little to criticise
in the policy of the UK government in recent months, which has
been working in the Commonwealth, and with European and US partners,
to press for honest elections in Zimbabwe and a change of attitude
by the Mugabe regime. The UK has little direct influence on events
in Zimbabwe, and President Mugabe has skillfully portrayed all
his critics as tools of white colonialists. The one area where
the UK could have been more effective was in making it clearer
that it wished to see equitable land redistribution in Zimbabwe.
The Mugabe regime has claimed that the UK reneged on promises
made at independence. Although this is not entirely true, the
UK could have done more in the 1980s and early 1990s to fund land
transfer to black farmers. More recently the CHRI has argued that
funds promised by the UK could have been put in an escrow account,
to await a satisfactory settlement of a kind the recent UNDP team
could have recommended, and which might have been supported by
both main parties in Zimbabwe.
4. The Initiative is extremely concerned
about the current situation in Zimbabwe, with revenge attacks
on opponents of Zanu-PF, narrowing space for civil society, widespread
hunger, high inflation, and a collapse of the economy and social
services. However it considers that the Commonwealth, in all its
manifestations, must be the key instrument for resolving the crisis.
The Commonwealth was critical to the end of the civil war and
the achievement of independence in 1980; the Harare Declaration,
1991, has underpinned all progress in democratisation and human
rights through the Commonwealth over the last decade; and suspension
of the Mugabe regime from the Commonwealth, in March 2002, was
a major step in demonstrating disapproval by peer governments.
The Commonwealth, as a voluntary transregional group, where a
majority of states are developing, a third are African and all
share a colonial history, is much closer and more realistic in
its approach to this crisis than any other international body.
The fact that national interests diverge, and it was not easy
to win agreement to a coherent approach over the last six months,
proves the value of the Commonwealth rather than the opposite.
5. The Commonwealth is currently supporting
the exercise, by Nigerian and South African interlocutors, to
bring Zanu-PF and MDC together in the talks at Vumba. In the short
term the talks are unlikely to be successful. It is the object
of Zanu-PF to get the MDC to accept the result of the recent election.
It is the object of the MDC to get new elections on fairer terms
at the earliest opportunity. Neither party is much interested
in genuine power-sharing. It seems unlikely at present that conditions
by March 2003 will allow for the lifting of the suspension of
the Zimbabwe government. Nonetheless it is important that Nigeria
and South Africa, on behalf of the Commonwealth, should continue
facilitating a dialogue for the foreseeable future.
6. The CHRI believes that the Commonwealth,
which has been too fixated on elections in its democratisation
strategy following the Harare Declaration, needs to have a broader
and more inclusive approach, and that the UK should discuss this
with its partners. The Commonwealth should be thinking in the
longer-term, and with due regard to the regional dimension to
the Zimbabwe crisis. It should also recognise that any strategy
it adopts now will have implications for its approach to Pakistan,
and to other states which may be suspended in future.
7. Specifically the intergovernmental Commonwealth
Encourage bodies such as the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative,
the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Commonwealth Journalists
Association to interact with Zimbabwean parliamentarians and civil
society on a non-partisan basis. The survival of independent institutions
of media and civil society inside Zimbabwe is crucial to the country's
Require the World Food Programme
to make food relief available to Zimbabweans via non-governmental
organisations, as well as via local and central government agencies.
Reports that food relief is being distributed only to those who
produce a Zanu-PF party card is a denial of the right to food,
the right to life and basic democratic rights.
Encourage the continued search for
a solution of the land ownership crisis, on condition that any
formula which the international community can approve must have
the support of the MDC, as the alternative government, as well
as of the present government.
Charge the Human Rights Unit of the
Commonwealth Secretariat, and request the Commonwealth Human Rights
Initiative to collect material from July 2002 onwards (ie after
the introduction of the International Criminal Court) which might
lead to charges being brought against prominent Zimbabweans, at
the ICC, for gross abuse of human rights in future.
Review the sanctions regime introduced
by the European Union and the United States against members of
the Zimbabwe government and armed forces with a view to assessing
its effectiveness, and its relevance to possible Commonwealth
action in future, in the context also of past Commonwealth sanctions
against apartheid South Africa and the Commonwealth sanctions
that were proposed against General Abacha of Nigeria.
Support Commonwealth African leaders
in their commitments to good governance and fundamental human
rights made in NEPAD, and that Zimbabwe is seen as a test of the
new partnership for African development in practice.
8. The CHRI appreciates that much effort
is needed to establish democratic and human rights standards in
central and southern Africa. A number of issues, including monopolisation
of power by governments, the partiality of state broadcasters,
and the uneven nature of socio-economic development, affect countries
other than Zimbabwe. In providing targeted assistance to neighbouring
countries, including Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, the Commonwealth
will actually be contributing to an awareness that there are positive
alternatives to the Zimbabwe crisis.
9. A change at the head of Government may
not end this crisis. While asserting the centrality of the Commonwealth
to the progress of this African sub-region the CHRI would encourage
the UK government to use other means at its disposal: through
the G8 and NEPAD, through the European Union, and through its
partnership with the United States, to achieve a change for the
better in the lives of the people of Zimbabwe. At present the
UK government, which should welcome Zimbabwe asylum seekers who
have suffered persecution from the Mugabe regime, must accept
that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
3 May 2002