Thursday, June 12, 2008

'SADC election observers should go to Zimbabwe immediately'

Herewith, in full, a statement released on June 10 (2008) by the University of Pretoria Law Faculty's Centre for Human Rights.

Thanks to Pierre at Constitutionally Speaking from whom I picked up the story. It is encouraging that civil society is becoming more and more vocal in South Africa.

In all honesty, even if scores of observers are sent to Zimbabwe immediately it will be too late to provide the MDC with a reasonable chance to rally their supporters ahead of the presidential election scheduled for June 27, which is now only 15 days away. It may help to expose power abuses during the actual election and thereafter. But the bottom line is that South Africa and SADC have failed the people of Zimbabwe once again. One can only hope for a miracle come June 27...

SADC election observers should go to Zimbabwe immediately

Release date: 10 June 2008

The Centre for Human Rights, at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, calls on President Mwanawasa, in his capacity as Chairperson of SADC, and on President Mbeki, in his capacity as SADC mediator on Zimbabwe, to take all possible measures to ensure the immediate and extensive deployment of SADC observers in Zimbabwe.

It is encouraging that President Mbeki has already voiced his support for the deployment of SADC observers, and that he reminded member states to make the necessary resources available for this purpose. However, these observers should not focus primarily on monitoring the polls on voting day, but should be put in place as soon as possible to cover the period leading up to the elections and a reasonable period thereafter. These observers should also be representative of SADC as a whole.

An election is a process, consisting of three main phases: (1) the pre-election period; (2) the voting day itself; and (3) the period between voting and the release of results. If election observers focus on what happens on voting day only, the important determinants of a free and fair election prior to and after voting day would not be taken into account. At the moment, there are clear indications that the pre-election conditions are not only making a free and fair election impossible, but are skewed in favour of the candidacy of President Mugabe. Even if people are allowed to go to the polls on voting day, free and fair elections are impossible due to the harassment, arrest, detention and even disappearance of activists and leaders; restrictions on the media; and fear and intimidation of the population and non-governmental organisations.

According to SADC’s own ‘Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections’, the SADC election observation mission should be deployed ‘at least two weeks before the voting day’ (para 4.1.10). Under the specific circumstances prevailing in Zimbabwe, the ‘normal’ period of two weeks should be increased as much as possible. It is imperative that all efforts should be made to get as many observers into place, covering as extensive an area as possible, as soon as possible. The elections, scheduled to take place on 27 June, is just 16 days away. Observers should be on the ground now, and should stay at least until election results are announced.

Observers should insist on the full compliance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines, which includes the following:

  • The government must safeguard the human rights and adequate security of all stakeholders and parties (para 7.4; 7.5).
  • The observers must have unimpeded and unrestricted access to all polling stations and counting centres (para 7.19).

Once deployed, SADC observers must submit regular reports, so that matters requiring urgent attention may be dealt with by the appropriate SADC organ.

To ensure a credible election, as many observers as possible should be allowed into the country. Presidents Mwanawasa and Mbeki should insist that Zimbabwe allows other observers, in line with the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights’ ‘Resolution on the Forthcoming Run-off Election in Zimbabwe’, adopted in May at its 43rd ordinary session. In this resolution, the African Commission requests that the Zimbabwean government allows ‘both national and international election observers to observe the entire electoral process, so as to enhance the credibility of the electoral process, and acceptance of the results of the elections by all contesting parties’.

The Centre for Human Rights further urges Presidents Mwanawasa and Mbeki to exert all possible pressure on President Mugabe to halt violence, intimidation, and selective use of to law stifle opposition, and to abide by the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the Zimbabwean Constitution and Electoral Act.

For more detail, please contact: Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria,; tel: 012 4203228; cell: 073 393 4181

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