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RFK Center Files Case on behalf of Women of Zimbabwe Arise Defending Right to Engage in Peaceful Protest

(Washington—April 17, 2013) The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center) in partnership with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has filed a case on behalf of Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights—the continent’s leading human rights body.

The case, filed with the African Commission on April 13, presents a systematic pattern of violations perpetrated by the Republic of Zimbabwe that routinely suppresses WOZA's rights to engage in peaceful protest and public demonstrations. These unlawful acts by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and others stifle the legitimate democratic activities of WOZA in clear violation of Zimbabwe's obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

"In retaliation for exercising their rights to free expression, women in Zimbabwe can expect to be beaten, locked in filthy cells, and tortured.  Mothers, who simply voice their concerns about hunger, access to clean water and health care for their children, face brutal repression by government agents," said Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center. "From the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement, the world has seen the way public protest can help foster democracy and equal rights. Zimbabwe cannot continue to exert this kind of violence against WOZA's peaceful demonstrators. Instead, these women, who willingly sacrifice their very lives for their country, should be counted among Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots.  As Robert Kennedy said, 'It is not enough to allow dissent; we should demand it, for there is much to dissent from.'"

In spite of a 2010 ruling by the Zimbabwean Supreme Court protecting WOZA's right to engage in peaceful protest, ZRP officers consistently use excessive force to prevent public demonstrations, beating demonstrators with their baton sticks, and causing serious injuries. ZRP officers routinely intimidate, harass, arbitrarily arrest, and torture WOZA members for engaging in peaceful protest criticizing the Inclusive Government. WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu are specifically targeted by ZRP officers and have both been arrested in excess of 50 times.

"The facilitation of peaceful protest is an essential element of a democratic society," said Santiago A. Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center. "The Zimbabwean government's suppression of peaceful protest and public demonstrations is part and parcel of their systematic attack on civil society that has only increased in recent months leading up to the country's elections."

The filing of the case on behalf of WOZA comes in the wake of the RFK Center's recent high-level delegation to Zimbabwe and a side event at the African Commission highlighting the systematic crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe. During the RFK Center delegation, several concerns came up repeatedly, including: a general lack of progress on reforms outlined in the Global Political Agreement; increased intimidation, threats, and violence against civil society; and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

WOZA's case before the African Commission presents an opportunity for the regional human rights body to make significant strides toward the protection of peaceful protest in Africa. In addition to seeking relief under international law, WOZA has also requested urgent intervention to ensure that Zimbabwe refrains from further attacks on freedoms of expression and assembly in the critical months leading up to watershed elections.

For more information, contact:

Meaghan Baron
Director of Communications
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
+1-917-284-6352 (US)

"It is not enough to allow dissent. We must demand it. For there is much to dissent from. We dissent from the fact that millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich. We dissent from the conditions and hatred which deny a full life to our fellow citizens because of the color of their skin. We dissent from the monstrous absurdity of a world where nations stand poised to destroy one another, and men must kill their fellow men. We dissent from the sight of most of mankind living in poverty, stricken by disease, threatened by hunger and doomed to an early death after a life of unremitting labor. We dissent from cities which blunt our senses and turn the ordinary acts of daily life into a painful struggle. We dissent from the willful, heedless destruction of natural pleasure and beauty. We dissent from all those structures-of technology and of society itself-which strip from the individual the dignity and warmth of sharing in the common tasks of his community and his country." 

Robert F. Kennedy, Berkeley Campus, University of California, October 22, 1966