Zimbabwe a 'silent genocide', UN Human Rights Council told

By Ecumenical News International
June 17, 2008

The Zimbabwean woman who sat next to the general secretary of the World Council of Churches telling her story was quite blunt. "Please don't write my name - if it is known I will be killed," she said at the meeting moderated by the WCC general secretary, the Rev Samuel Kobia.

The following day Zimbabwean women told the United Nations in Geneva they are watching a "silent genocide" unfurl in their country - writes Peter Kenny.

"We, the Zimbabwean women and women worldwide, urgently call for an end to the violence in Zimbabwe and for the protection of women and girls in this post election catastrophe," they in a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council's June hearing, as their southern African country gears up for a presidential run-off on 27 June.

"The violence persists and is real. No election observers are yet in the country, despite our calls, appeals, cries to the Southern Africa Development Community, the African Union, and to the United Nations," the women said on 12 June.

"We are watching a silent genocide of the poor and powerless, due to politically induced murders, criminal actions, and collapse of basic services resulting in deaths due to lack of health care, food, and shelter for the displaced, especially after the March 29th elections. Most of the affected are women and children."

Signatories to the submission included the World Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe, World YWCA, the Girl Child Network, Femmes Africa Solidarity, the General Arab Women's Federation, the World Student Christian Federation, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and Religions for Peace, as well as numerous other groups.

The women said, "We especially request the Human Rights Council to establish a programme of engagement with Zimbabwe for the protection of human rights, especially for women, girls and children. The UN must deploy human rights monitors during the run-up to the Presidential Elections."

They also requested a mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women to carry out a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe and to support the "efforts of community organizations living in a culture of fear".

They want UN support to "put in place ways of ensuring safety and protection for women's human rights advocates and activists, who find themselves in fear of death and whose ability to engage publicly is compromised" and for the international body to engage with the Zimbabwean government and authorities to stop the violence and demand that the State protect ordinary people's lives.

On 13 June, 40 African leaders, including the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said in an open letter, "It is crucial for the interests of both Zimbabwe and Africa that the upcoming elections are free and fair."

They said, "We are deeply troubled by the current reports of intimidation, harassment and violence. It is vital that the appropriate conditions are created so that the presidential run-off is conducted in a peaceful, free and fair manner.

"Only then can the political parties conduct their election campaigning in a way that enables the citizens to express freely their political will. In this context, we call for an end to the violence and intimidation, and the restoration of full access for humanitarian and aid agencies. To this end it will be necessary to have an adequate number of independent electoral observers, both during the election process and to verify the results."

Others who signed the letter are the Uganda-born Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique

The WCC's Kobia, a Kenyan, said the Geneva-based church council had applied to have observers at the next round of the election, but so far it had not been granted permission to send people in.

He supported a call by Zimbabweans who attended the meeting at the WCC for a day of prayers for peace on 22 June before the election.


Read the African leaders' letter in full: http://www.zimbabwe-27June.com

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.