The United Nations Human Rights Office of the Commissioner has said it is deeply troubled by the socio-economic crisis that is unfolding in Zimbabwe and the repression of large scale protests in the country, following the Government’s decision to increase fuel prices.
“We call on the Government to find ways of engaging with the population about their legitimate grievances and to stop the crackdown against protestors. We are concerned about reports of the excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by Zimbabwean security forces during protests which started on Monday this week. People took to the streets to protest against economic austerity measures and the rise of fuel prices, which affect their already impoverished households and businesses, and limit access to basic goods and services,” the OHCHR said in a statement today.
Reports suggest that protesters burned tyres, used rocks to barricade roads, and blocked buses from taking passengers to work. A number of buildings were also set on fire and there were reports of looting. Police responded with force, apparently including the use of live ammunition. The UN agency noted that there are credible reports of a number of deaths – including of a police officer – and many more injured, as well as hundreds of arrests in relation to the protests.
The UN agency described as “worrying” allegations of generalised intimidation and harassment by security forces carrying out door-to-door searches. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has also received allegations of police beatings. According to official figures presented by the Minister of National Security, more than 600 people have been arrested countrywide.
“Among those detained are opposition leaders and prominent civil society activists. We are also concerned that Internet services have been severely disrupted in the last few days. We support the call of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission for the Government to set up a national dialogue, with wide participation of all sectors, to find solutions to the economic challenges the country is facing. We urge the Government to work with the support of the international community to ease the current crisis.”
The OHCHR called on the Government to ensure that security forces handle protests and exercise their power – especially the use of firearms and live ammunition – strictly in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations and the relevant principles, including legality, necessity, proportionality, precaution and accountability.
“State authorities have a duty to ensure people’s rights to freedom of expression, and to facilitate and protect the right to peaceful assembly. It is essential that all sides, including the protestors, refrain from the use of violence and seek to resolve the situation peacefully.We call on the Government to carry out investigations into all reports of violence, including the alleged excessive use of force by security forces in a prompt, thorough and transparent manner, with a view to accountability. All those detained for the exercise of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression should be promptly released.”