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2020 Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit “Building Back Better: Expanding the Civic Space and Enhancing Resilience of Human Rights Defenders During and Post COVID-19 – A Special Focus on Womxn and Traditionally Marginalized Groups”

Concept Note

2020 Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit

“Building Back Better: Expanding the Civic Space and Enhancing Resilience of Human Rights Defenders During and Post COVID-19: – A Special Focus on Womxn and Traditionally Marginalized Groups”

Please Follow Zoom Link to register: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_LDar9d8nTHuzF7SJjfi1lQ

Introduction:

As part of commemorating the International Human Rights Defenders Day, the International Human Rights Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) in partnership with Amnesty International – Southern Africa and Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA) will convene a high-level regional conference themed – Building Back Better: Expanding the Civic Space and Enhancing Resilience of Human Rights Defenders During and Post COVID-19, – with a Special Focus on Womxn and other Vulnerable Group” from December 1-2 , 2020.

As the year 2020 is coming to an end, the Regional Convening will take the opportunity to analyse how civic space has evolved since the start of COVID-19, and also identify ways in which Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), civil society representatives, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), regional and international mechanisms and various other stakeholders, can work together in monitoring and advancing the protection of civic, democratic and civil society space. In addition, this conference will critically reflect on the HRDs Response, Recovery and Resilience (RRR) strategies and tactics in the context of shifting civic space during COVID-19 epoch.

Purpose of the Convening:

The year 2020 has been marked with severe challenges for a global society that is already grappling with realising the full enjoyment of basic human rights and freedoms of every person. Since early February 2020, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused most countries to implement restrictions that were primarily meant to save and protect the livelihoods of many ordinary people. However, what followed was a global trend where a majority of State authorities undertook far-reaching decisions that were used as an excuse and justification to overburden an already shrinking civic, democratic and civil society space. In most countries, governments adopted laws and practices that are likely to have long-term repercussions not only on specific groups such as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), but also the general population at large.

Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of countries mainly focused their attention on introducing severe limitations on the rights to freedom of assembly and other civil and political rights, which led to an increase in human rights violations and draconian measures against civil society. In most countries, the limitation of several rights was mainly enforced by the military and through the use of violent repression that saw the killings and vicious attacks of thousands of people across the globe. Furthermore, the right to freedom of expression has negatively affected the public sphere’s mode of communication through various social media platforms. For instance, a lot of countries adopted legal measures that prohibit the dissemination of supposedly false or misleading information, leading to the arrest of many people.

In addition to the far-reaching restrictions on civic space, governments and other actors have seen this moment as an opportunity to increase its attack on HRDs, who have become an easier target as a result of the isolation that is accompanied by the loss of protective resources and the lack of media coverage to their situation. In several countries, HRDs have been increasingly subjected to killings, unlawful deprivation of liberty, abductions, torture, and other forms of intimidation by both State and non-State actors. The situation of womxn human rights defenders (WHRDs) has also exacerbated during this pandemic, with particular effects such as the additional burden of care, making it harder for them to defend their safety.

The SAHRDN has also noted from applications for protection made that the threats to HRDs is both online and offline especially in countries experiencing democratic regression in Southern Africa. The protection of physical and digital space and rights is therefore of increasing importance in the future including for WHRDs as the digital penetration increases.

The impact of the non-state actors especially economic players mainly in the extractive sector as threat multipliers to HRDs especially indigenous/environmental HRDs is increasing across the whole of Southern Africa. The cold blooded murder of grandmother and WHRD Fikile Ntshangase in her home in October 2020 in Kwazulu Natal (KZN) South Africa is one example of such threats.

In recognising the broad restrictions that the imposed lockdown measures has had on the ability of civil society and HRDs to fully participate in and monitor government activities, the regional convening will imagine how adequate civic space and the protection of human rights can still be achieved in times of great public health crisis.

As part of commemorating 75 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the regional convening will bring together HRDs, civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders who are committed to fighting against the current restraints of human rights activism.

It is hoped that by the end of the convening, participants would have been able to identify ways in which we can create more sustainable and inclusive solutions of how civic space can thrive even during unprecedented times.

Please download the agenda below

#Together We Defend

Call for Testimonials of “A Woman Human Rights Defender Like Me”

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) seeks to empower and enhance the protection and resilience of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Southern Africa during the COVID-19 crisis, through the StandwitHER project. Among the objectives of the project is to support the online publication of WHRDs testimonies during and post COVID-19 as a means of increasing the public recognition and evidence impact of their work.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual global campaign that begins on 25 November and ends on the International Human Rights Day, on 10 December. The campaign’s objective is to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

The year 2020 has seen an alarming increase in the cases of violence against women, due to the lockdown measures imposed by many governments around the world in a bid to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women found themselves facing a pandemic within a pandemic; they have lived with the pandemic of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) for centuries and which has been worsening over the years.

Whilst governments imposed strict lockdown regulations, resources have been diverted to deal with COVID-19, at the expense of essential services such as emergency services for SGBV victims/survivors, sexual reproductive health services, access to justice and shelters.

Amidst all this, there has been a restriction on civil and political rights, including the rights of freedoms of expression, association and assembly, with human rights defenders being arrested on charges of breaching COVID-19 health regulations, among others. WHRDs were not spared from government interference, intimidation and harassment; they too were arrested, with some being subjected to gender-specific violations such as sexual assault as a form of torture.

During the 16 Days, the SAHRDN seeks to launch the publication of testimonies of WHRDs within the region, with a testimony being published on each day as from 25 November to 10 December. Subsequently, the testimonies will be published monthly in recognition of the work that WHRDs do amid the threats, risks and violations they face.

While WHRDs will be requested to share their stories of pain, suffering, struggles, tears and triumph in written form or recording (audio and video), and to also send their pictures, they will not be obligated to reveal their identities if they do not wish to do so. In respecting the “do no harm” principle, we shall use pseudonyms and avatars for those WHRDs who will request their identities to be hidden

Objectives:

  1. Increasing the public recognition and evidence impact of the work of WHRDs in the region
  2. Conducting evidence-based advocacy on SGBV risks, threats, and violations faced by WHRDs
  3. Enhancing regional solidarity and support to WHR

We, therefore, request your assistance with the following:

  1. If you are a WHRD, please share your story in written, audio, or video format.  Audio and video recordings should not be more than 10 minutes
  2.  WHRDs are encouraged to share their names and pictures, but if not comfortable with revealing their identity, you can use a pseudonym and indicate it to us.
  3.  If you are not a WHRD, kindly share the invitation with women, who you think should have their stories told, or who would benefit from being published
  4.  The testimonials can be sent to imbokodo@southernafricadefenders.africa  or on WhatsApp or Signal to +27 71 843 8887 or +27 78125 1062. 

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require further information.

Together, we defend

#16DaysofActivismAgainstGender-based Violenc

Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup: Mozambique – the building power to defend human rights and civic Space

Gone are the days of Mozambique being the donor darling; the days of it being a success story, a model of post-civil war political stability and good macroeconomic policy. Mozambique was briefly Africa’s biggest recipient of aid and Foreign Direct Investment destination. This caused Christine Lagarde – the then IMF Director in 2013, at an Africa Rising Conference, in Maputo, Mozambique – to label it the rising “Qatar of Africa”. But that’s gone.

Instead Mozambique is now experiencing the biggest socioeconomic and financial crisis of its history. The country is succumbing under the US $2 billion hidden/ illegal debt orchestrated by president Guebuza’s regime, near the end of its second term between 2013-14 and discovered in 2016.

When the odious debt was exposed, development partners cut off their aid, an amount that accounted for almost half of the public expenditure in the country. Unable to pay her international creditors, Mozambique has defaulted since 2016 with deep debt distress (100%+ to GDP) and money from the gas fields off Mozambique’s coast — besides creating and driving a complex security crisis – is not coming anytime soon.

In addition to this, the problematic power transition from President Guebuza to Filipe Nyusi exacerbated factionalism within Frelimo which had a negative impact on ‘civic space’ (people’s rights to protest, assembly and a free media), given the military roots of Frelimo. 

In March 2015 the brutal assassination of Professor Gilles Cistac, only two months after the troubled presidential transition, was a good indicator of the beginning of the systematic and sustained closure of civic space.  Since the investigation by the attorney’s general office failed to bring charges against anybody, the case was archived a few years later creating a climate of impunity for serious human rights violations.

This event had a negative impact on the democratic and civic space and, before people recovered from the shock, a wave of abduction and beating up of academics, journalists engulfed the country.

The abduction of Professor Macuane an associate professor at the University of Eduardo Mondlane in May 2016  and human rights lawyer and journalist Ercino Salema in March 2018 represented but a tip of the iceberg substantiating the public outcry that there was a Death Squad in Mozambique operating with the acquiescence of the establishment, particularly the police.

Origins of the Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network

It is within this context that activists started to mobilize firmly towards the establishment of a Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network. There were two issues: one was the need for collective action to protect civic space and claim the right to stand and fight for democracy; the second was to protect activists – a vulnerable group that needs special attention if it is not to become extinct.

The Constitution of Mozambique and the human rights instruments that Mozambique voluntarily ratified and is obliged to comply with firmly support this approach.

For a long time, Human Rights veteran, Alice Mabota, the founder and leader of Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League), had raised the discussion about the need for a Human Rights Defenders Network but not much happened until the escalation in the wave of attacks on Defenders.

Beginning in 2014, direct attacks with impunity on Defenders and activists  led OXFAM and DIAKONIA to start working towards the development of a protection mechanism for Defenders. Constant attacks and threats led towards an establishment of a network of Defenders to increase intra-Defenders solidarity.It also worked on cooperation on security and protection as well as to improve the ability to identify and evaluate cases that could be appropriate for support under the protection mechanism available from international organizations.   

Organizations such as JOINT a non-profit organization created in 2007 with the aim of strengthening the role of Mozambican civil society and its participation in the country’s socio-economic processes and development have also been working for a couple of years to establish the network in the context of the AGIR Programe. Important progress was made.

In June 2019, the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) capitalized on this progress to work collaboratively with the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) to establish an inclusive Human Rights Defenders Network in Mozambique.

CDD worked with a grant from the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa (OSISA) jointly given to N’weti a Mozambican non-profit organization that works in the area of ​​health communication to accelerate the creation of conditions for the rapid establishment of the Defenders Network in Mozambique. CDD had also worked closely with the Mozambique Human Rights Commission, a body that has constitutional obligations to promote and protect human rights in Mozambique.  

Catalytic Moments

Six key events that catalyzed the momentum for the establishment of the network in Mozambique in 2019 and merit special attention.

First, CDD’s conference for the launch of Mozambique’s electoral monitoring project to prevent, mitigate violence and intimidation and promote responses on conflicts during 2019 general elections with the keynote address by Siphosami Malunga, OSISA’s director.

Second, the joint round-table with Amnesty International and Solidariedade Mocambique to assess the status of human rights in the electoral manifestos with the keynote address by the Swedish Embassy.

Third, the killing of HRD Anastácio Matavele, in Xai-Xai, Gaza province, on October 7, 2019, by national police officers.

Fourth, the blatant electoral fraud, violence and intimidation of defenders by the police during the election in October 2019.

Fifth, 18 pro-democracy activists, members of Mozambique’s newly established Nova Democracia political party, were detained simply because they had witnessed an electoral fraud in Gaza.

Sixth the consultation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in 2019 and the advice given on the need for greater organization and coordination by Defenders themselves in protecting themselves in a deteriorating environment.

The founding conference

With the above happening, key Defenders held the founding conference on the occasion of the International Human Rights Defenders Day, 9 December 2019, jointly organized by CDD and SAHRDN. At this meeting, CDD was tasked with putting in place and leading the roadmap towards the establishment of the network.

The first quarter of 2020 focused intensively on the investigation of the assassination of Anastácio Matavele and the push for an independent trial. This involved collaboration with CESC (Centro de Aprendizagem e Capacitação e Sociedade Civil). The leadership of activist Graça Machel was decisive for the trial to happen despite Covid-19.

Then there was observation of the court proceedings; training of the members of PIE, Platforma da Sociedade Civil para a Industria Extractiva and some public lectures in collaboration with SAHRDN on New Authoritarianism, Civic Space and Human Rights Defending

Even before the database and provincial workshops were completed, the already precarious human rights situation was exacerbated by the growing militarization of civic space in connection with the government strategy to repel the insurgency in Cabo Delgado – a province that has become a war zone where human rights violations and the abduction of journalists (Amade Abubacar, Ibrahim Mbaruco and Pindai Dube) has become  widespread.

Cabo Delgado has become a no-go area for activists and journalists notwithstanding official claims that Cabo Delgado is open for journalists and activists. The reality is that anyone investigating information related to abuses in Cabo Delgado is being put in serious threat. For instance, the editor of the independent newspaper Canal de Moçambique, Matias Guente, was prosecuted after publishing sensitive information related to the contracts between the Government and private military companies working in the province.

Covid-19 has given the Government excuses to limit freedoms and put vocal critics in surveillance.  The State of Emergency with its subsequent extensions, although possibly a strategic necessity, has had a severe impact on the lives of people and operations of civil society organisations who rely on open and free civic space to carry out their legitimate work to promote and protect human rights.

Further, the burning down of the office of the independent newspaper Canal de Moçambique expedited the establishment of the human rights defenders network on 6th October 2020, which at the moment is hosted and coordinated by CDD in direct coordination with JOINT, FMO, PIE and with the support from leaders such as activist Graça Machel whose support has been critical.

Currently the steering committee of the network is preparing to hold its third conference on December 9, 2020 – an event that will elect the leadership of the network.   

Conclusion

The establishment of the Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network is an important milestone in Mozambique and for the SAHRDN. It is the second national network in Southern Africa after Malawi’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) that has an approach of the human rights movement organically connecting itself to the people whose rights it seeks to promote and protect. This will increase the legitimacy of Defenders while strengthening the protection of Defenders at highest risk.

We can therefore look forward to strengthening the resilience and capacities of Defenders in Mozambique to exercise their right to defend human rights, fight injustice, push back on shrinking civic space and enhance their own protection and security.

Professor Adriano Nuvunga is a civil society leader in Mozambique and the Executive Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). Arnold Tsunga is the Resident Senior Director at the National Democratic Institute and also offers Strategy and Technical Advisory services to the SAHRDN.

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

The weekly roundup is a collaboration between the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Maverick Citizen.

THE KILLING OF SOMKHELE ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, FIKILE NTSHANGASE

23 October 2020

I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.

Tragically, grandmother Fikile Ntshangase’s words became a reality when she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba, on the evening of 22 October 2020.

Mama Ntshangashe was the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (“MCEJO”). MCEJO has been challenging the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. One of the court cases brought by MCEJO is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court of Appeal on 3 November 2020.

On Thursday, 22 October 2020 at about 18:30, four gunmen arrived at Mam Nsthangase’s house, where she lives with her 11 year old grandson. Current reports say that they forced themselves into the home and shot her 5 times, and that she died on the scene.

Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele. (Photgraphs and video footage available.)

Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and MCEJO’s opposition to that expansion.

Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Nsthangase refused to sign.

She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MJECO and that the “agreement” only benefited Tendele. She  also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele. Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had promised her a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature.

The court challenge that placed a price on Mama Ntshangase’s life is MJECO’s pending review application of Tendele’s new mining right in respect of a 222km2 area in Mpukunyoni, KZN. This review is due to be heard by the North Gauteng High Court in March 2021.

Tendele has publicly characterised MCEJO’s legal challenge as a threat to the mine’s continued existence, stating that, with the current mining area depleted, it needed to expand its mining area, or face closure.

The expansion requires relocation of 19 families from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

Tendele cannot commence any operations in the new mining right area until these families agree to Tendele’s “compensation” offer and sign relocation agreements. These families were subjected to months of violence and intimidation. Despite the clear volatility of the situation, Tendele has accused these families of “holding the Mine, its … employees and many families who have signed [relocation] agreements and indeed the entire community to ransom”. Tendele carried out its pressure campaign even while these families were receiving anonymous death-threats and gunmen opened fire on one of the families’ homes.

In May 2020, Tendele tried to bring an urgent court application to force the families to accept their compensation offer, but abruptly removed the matter from the Court roll when the families opposed the application.    

Tendele has now embarked upon a campaign to pit the State, the Ingonyama Trust Board, traditional leaders and fellow community members against these families to pressure them into signing relocation agreements. Tendele requested the MEC for Transport, Community Safety & Liaison KZN, Minister Ntuli and department officials to set up a “task team”, with the aim of “the two court cases opened by MJECO against the mine remain a threat and needs [sic] to be withdrawn”.

It is against this backdrop that the pro-mining campaign was stepped up during the past week. On 15 October, two sub-committee members, accompanied by two known hitmen, tried to disrupt a MCEJO executive committee meeting with community leaders, which included Mama Ntshangase. One sub-committee member tried to lock the doors, and a prominent leader was assaulted. A criminal case is being opened. This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he is seen in the vicinity.

Billy Mnqondo, a founding member of MCEJO, reports that one of the hitman kept saying “kuzochitheka igazi” (there will be bloodshed). His appeal to the police is: “Make sure that the criminals who murdered our comrade are caught and go to jail. Mam Ntshangase was killed for standing up for what is right. This is wrong and cannot go unpunished.”     

It appears that the mine is being supported by the KwaZulu-Natal government. In July, the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member, apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (which is conspicuous in its absence whenever the threat of violence looms), to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine.

Since then, after MCEJO members thought it only proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama King Goodwill Zwelithini about their struggle, they have come under even further government pressure via the office of the Premier and COGTA. This is the self-same government that claims to be a custodian for land reform to redress the land imbalance – while wilfully pushing to displace rural farmers from their family land from which they subsist.

For the State and Traditional Authorities actively to assist Tendele in its efforts to bring about MJECO’s withdrawal of its review application is abhorrent to our Constitutional order. Without access to Court, local communities’ right to dignity and section 24 environmental rights are illusory.

The strategies used by Tendele are sadly typical of many companies operating in impoverished rural communities. Mines dangle incentives to impoverished community members with the inevitable consequences of stirring deep community divisions, which almost always lead to violence and deaths. In rural areas that are difficult to police, it takes someone with the determination and the courage of Mama Ntshangase to promote community solidarity and resistance in the face of these strategies. There are other leaders of this calibre in MCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Mama Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing.

We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers.

We call on the Tendele to stop its campaign of dividing and fomenting violence in the affected community of Somkhele, and to provide funds for Mam Ntshangase’s funeral and for maintenance for her orphaned grandson.

We stand by all defenders of land and environmental rights, and will act to defend their Constitutional rights to life, dignity, free speech, access to justice, access to food and water, and an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing.

Joint Media Statement:,

CER (Centre for Environmental Rights) https://cer.org.za/

Earthlife Africa https://earthlife.org.za/

GET (Global Environmental Trust) https://globalenvironmentaltrust.org/

groundWork https://www.groundwork.org.za/

MACUA (Mining Affected Communities United in Action) https://macua.org.za/

MCEJO (Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation)

SAHRDN (Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network)  http://www.southernafricadefenders.africa/

WAMUA (Women Against Mining United in Action) https://macua.org.za/

——————————————–END——————————————————————

Contacts: Tsepang Molefe; +27 74 405 1257; media@groundwork.org.za

                  Lerato Balendran; +27 79 071 744 ; lbalendran@cer.org.za

                  Sifiso Dladla; +27 78 849 8621; sifiso.dladla@actionaid.org.za

                  Robby Mokgalaka; +27 73 774 3362; robby@groundwork.org.za

Lesotho: Authorities must withdraw proposed Internet Broadcasting rules that would curtail freedom of expression and association

Today we joined hands with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) in calling the Lesotho authorities to withdraw proposed Internet Broadcasting Rules that would result in the freedom of expression and association being severely curtailed.

If enacted into law, the proposed regulations would also classify persons with more than 100 followers on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as internet broadcasters, thereby triggering the requirement to first register with the authorities, before operating their social media account

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Legal Monitor

In the latest Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Legal Monitor (LM) Protest Edition, the spotlight was on renowned Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga and several other human rights defenders, who were
arrested for engaging in protests and how from Bulawayo to Harare,
Mwenezi, Chegutu, Shamva, Kwekwe, Zvishavane and Chipinge, ZLHR
managed to secure their release after they simply exercised their
constitutional rights.

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region. The weekly roundup is a collaboration between the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Maverick Citizen

Civil society leader Timothy Mtambo, now the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity in Malawi, explains how civic activism defeated the authoritarian regime of president Mutharika and created a foundation for building a durable and strong democracy. His recipe for social mobilisation has lessons for citizens of many other countries in Africa who are living under the yoke of oppression and authoritarian rule.

Far too many people in Africa are yearning for change and opportunity and unfortunately denied by those who govern them. A system of dictatorship can take its toll on ordinary people and create a sense of siege and helplessness with no clear pathway to freedom.

In the words of our own Africa liberation icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, “it looks impossible until it happens”.

Starting with the end in mind

In May 2019 when the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced election results that were not credible and the international observer teams endorsed what we Malawians were seeing as fatally flawed electoral processes, we knew immediately that the fate of Malawi was largely in the hands of ordinary Malawians. It is a truism that every country’s fate is largely in the hands of its own people. However people are paralysed by fear because of the ruthlessness of autocratic regimes.

As leaders of Malawi civil society we realised that without an independent, impartial and effective electoral commission, open civic space, effective civic engagement and participation and political reforms, that elections in Malawi were chronologically compliant meaningless rituals with no substantive value to ordinary people of Malawi.

We were determined to change that when we formed the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in December 2017.We wanted to put the agency for accountable governance back to ordinary Malawians. Free, fair and credible elections were central to governmental legitimacy, important for implementing the social contract. But without MEC institutional reform, free and fair elections were a pipe dream. Yet we also knew that MEC reform would not be possible without people agency and power. Every generation has a mandate that it must achieve or betray. Our generational mandate was clear and we were not prepared for anything to stop us.

First things first – People power: Giving Malawians back their collective voice

As a human rights activist, leading the HRDC, we chose to mobilise and give the people of Malawi their voice. Thousands of people bravely took to the streets on a regular basis to peacefully campaign against bad and corrupt governance including the 2019 election.  We declared 2020 the year of mass protests. We actively and consistently called for the resignation of the chairperson of the MEC, Jane Ansah, and the holding of fresh elections. The message was simple, clear, and unambiguous. The demonstrations ranged from organised large-scale marches to smaller spontaneous outbursts. Teachers, sanitation workers, truck drivers, airline staff, students, lecturers, churches took to the streets. It was unprecedented.  

Some  of the most notable demonstrations that changed the democratic terrain include the demonstrations for resignation of MEC Chair Jane Ansah; the anti-bribery march to defend judicial independence; demonstrations for nullification of elections results of 2019; 16 January 2020 MEC reform Jane Ansah resignation Lilongwe demonstration; demonstrations to use chains to lock MEC offices, demonstrations for investigations of sexual assault and rape allegations against the police in Msundwe.

Mutharika’s reaction and the battle for the independence of institutions of democracy

President Mutharika tried various tricks to try to delay the elections. This included refusing to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bill that had already been passed by parliament, trying to get Members of Parliament to change the date of the elections and refusing to fire the then MEC chairperson, Jane Ansah and her team of commissioners who were found incompetent by the courts. 

Once it became clear that the HRDC leadership had mobilised ordinary Malawians to take agency for accountable governance into their own hands, Mutharika became paranoid and started constricting civic space and persecuting human rights defenders.

The law became weaponised. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of HRDC leaders became commonplace.

At a personal level I was arrested and experienced direct threats to my life and that of my wife and children, cyberbullying, character assassination, arson attacks and shooting incidents. My children were threatened at school and in social media messages. One such nasty posting encouraged people to mass-rape my wife on sight. I was forced, with the support of the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, to evacuate my family to safety in order to tackle the dictatorship bare knuckled.

Israeli agents were conscripted into the state house with sinister motives to  either rig elections or harm civil society leaders, human rights defenders and legitimate political opponents. I wonder till today how much Malawi paid to the Israelis to frustrate our democratic growth.

Deployment of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadres to spread fear and disrupt civil society meetings became commonplace. With HRDC and later Citizens for Transformation Movement (CFT), we mobilised more people to build a critical mass of courageous citizens who had passed the threshold of fear. In one instance, despite having security personnel with us, we were still attacked in the city of Mzuzu by 20 DPP cadres who pelted our convoy with stones.

We were very grateful that the Malawi Defence Forces were extremely professional and protected everyone, the protesters and the DPP cadres, and filled a critical gap in national security that arose as a result of the total loss of support and confidence in the police force by the Malawi people following their ready acceptance of being co-opted as a militia to protect the interests of president Mutharika.

The HRDC took an uncompromising demand that the MEC needed reform, in particular resignation of the MEC Chair as a precondition for free, fair and credible elections. Mutharika resisted this until the very last minute when in May 2020 under relentless HRDC-led civil society pressure, the MEC Chair resigned forcing the president to reluctantly appoint a new commission just 2 weeks before elections. According to a blog from Oxfam, Chifundo Kachale, the new MEC Chair, “brilliantly navigated a combination of political and logistical obstacles, despite only taking over two weeks before the election”.

As he realised that power was slowly but surely slipping away from him, an increasingly paranoid Mutharika turned into vandalising state institutions and behaving like an absolute monarch. In the run up to his predictable electoral defeat he started to rule almost by decree. In a spectacular period of less than two weeks, he fired his entire cabinet including a minister who was less than 2 weeks old in office; he fired the army commander Ndundwe; he fired the police commissioner. All the fired senior government officials were replaced by his cronies and relatives.

I was so terrified that the moves by Mutharika to summarily dismiss respected army generals would trigger instability in the army and also cause the army to lose its professionalism and be used to attack civilians as happens in other jurisdictions. We had meetings with the army and thankfully they remained professional and insistent on carrying out their mandate of protecting everyone in Malawi without fear or favour.

I would emphasize the role of a professional, disciplined and well trained army in the protection of participatory democracy. This distinguishes Malawi from many countries where the army is deployed to harm or even kill unarmed civilians and thwart democratic growth of our societies.

In his last days Mutharika converted the courts and judicial arena as a battle front in his insatiable quest for power retention.

He went after Chief Justice Nyirenda trying to force him into early retirement but this was resisted by the HRDC, the Association of Magistrates and the Law Society of Malawi, and in a quite  unprecedented way by the Chief Justices of the whole region under the auspices of the Southern Africa Chief Justices Forum (SACJF).

Despite his background as a former professor of law, Mutharika tried to put a knife into separation of powers by addressing parliament suggesting that in Malawi we did not have separation of powers but parliamentary superiority over the judiciary. The judiciary had really angered him by the decisions they made especially of nullifying the 2019 elections.

Happily the judiciary survived and again as a result of the resilience of civil society represented by the HRDC to fight for and claim the independence of their institutions, we now have a judiciary that is more independent than at any other time in the history of Malawi.

Citizens of SADC and indeed the AU must fight for and defend the independence of their judiciaries and election management bodies so that they are not co opted by the authoritarian regimes to be instruments at the hands of oppression.

Covid-19 measures as a political weapon

Like other despots around the world, Mutharika tried to use the Covid-19 pandemic to stifle dissent and prolong his stay in power. The HRDC challenged this approach in the streets through protests and in the courts through strategic litigation. The Covid-19 measures Mutharika was trying to impose were to be implemented by his cronies who aimed to milk national resources for political objectives.

This irregularity coupled with lack of safety nets for the socioeconomic effects on ordinary people left the HRDC with no option but to successfully challenge Mutharika’s announcement of a lockdown in the courts. Protests erupted in informal settlements, and in small towns and trading centers — all places predominantly made up of people working in the informal economy. Nurses and doctors embarked on go-slows and sit-ins, while the civil servants’ union also announced plans for a general strike in response to this and other issues such as corruption, the rising cost of living and drug shortages.   

These different aspects of Malawian civil society worked together to safeguard the democratic process despite the opportunity Covid-19 offered for Mutharika to undermine our democratic process that would culminate in elections. Thankfully, while Covid-19 posed a real and significant threat to both the public health of Malawians and to our democracy, elections were held and the rest is history.

In the end a government was elected that has strong legitimacy stands better prospects of getting people’s active and conscious cooperation in a sustainable fight against Covid-19.

From the terraces to the theatre: Entering the quasi-political zone 

Back in April 2020, upon the realisation that the Mutharika regime could not be shaken by human rights activism alone, and in a bid to encourage widespread participation and directly influence the democratic process, I decided to establish a politically oriented peoples movement comprised of vibrant young men and women who were determined to be governed better and actively announce their preferred political choices.

We announced the formation of a movement called Citizens for Transformation Movement (CFT), a people powered movement that was the first of its kind in Malawi. It was a new approach founded on “the values of human rights, peaceful co-existence, rule of law, active and patriotic citizenship in pressing for inclusive social, political and economic transformation and a prosperous future for all Malawians”.

Faced with and bearing the brunt of authoritarian practices of president Mutharika, we endorsed the candidature of Dr Lazarus Chakwera and his running mate Dr Saulos Chilima and actively and publicly conscientised citizens of our views holding large meetings covering the width and breadth of Malawi.  

Our philosophy as the CFT peoples movement was that we did not want to govern, but we wanted to be governed better.

This is an important philosophy for African people still suffering from the yoke of oppression by their own post-independent governments. A demand for accountable governance is indeed a legitimate demand to be governed better. It is not a demand to govern neither does it necessarily amount to a choice of any specific political party being in power. It is about constitutionalism. With this philosophy, electoral choices become easy. People’s movements actively associate with political formations that demonstrably promise better accountable governance. This is a post independence generational mandate that must be fulfilled if Africa is to be better.

Human rights as a people movement and election issue

The CFT people’s movement elevated human rights as an election issue in Malawi. We spoke against gross human violations and inequalities and became the voice of the voiceless. We spoke against the targeted attacks on people with albinism who had experienced ritual killings and yet the government had done little to either bring perpetrators to book or to protect them. We spoke on behalf of the women from Msundwe area in Lilongwe who were openly abused and raped by police officers but never got justice. All these issues, including dwindling educational standards, high unemployment levels, lack of quality healthcare and drugs and health personnel in hospitals resonated with the people’s day to day struggles. 

People’s movement and defending the vote

Due to Covid-19, we did not have international election observers. This left everyone in Malawi in no doubt that the responsibility to protect the vote resided in Malawians. This was especially so when confidence in the efficacy and utility value of international observation was in question given that in both Malawi and Kenya, international observers seemed to certify faulty elections as free, fair and credible only for domestic courts to overturn such elections.

Come Election Day, the people demonstrated a strong will to guard and defend their vote. Activists, civil servants, university lecturers and bankers were deployed to polling stations across the country to observe and to guard the vote.

This effort was complemented by informal patrols established by community leaders, composed predominantly of young men, who kept watch for any unusual activity in their areas. They fed information about suspicious people or vehicles to social media, and also informed units from the Malawi Defence Force, which was also deployed on Election Day. These informal patrols resulted in the arrest of several individuals allegedly carrying bundles of cash to bribe election monitors, and handed them over to the police in areas such as Nkhotakota, Salima and Rumphi districts.

People’s victory

Ultimately fresh presidential elections were held on 23 June 2020, following the annulment of last year’s elections first by the Constitutional Court and later upheld by the Supreme Court, citing serious irregularities. This was the second time on the continent and the first in the Southern Africa region where an African Court overturned a presidential election and called for a fresh election. The first was in Kenya in 2017, but saw the opposition boycotting the rerun election.

The Malawi Congress Party led the Tonse Alliance (meaning “all of us” in the local Chichewa language) of nine opposition political parties and Dr Lazarus Chakwera, won the elections by 58.5% of the votes against President Peter Mutharika’s 39.4%. The voter turnout was 64.8%. 

To many Malawians this was the dawn of a new era. 

Impact of people power acknowledged

This ‘people power’ as reiterated by Nic Cheeseman, a professor and African politics expert at the University of Birmingham, and Golden Matonga, a Malawian award-winning journalist, significantly increased pressure on key democratic institutions and those working within them. 

Afrobarometer’s Director of Surveys also echoed this:     

“Malawi was soon swept up in one of the most encouraging political revolutions to hit Africa in the last two decades — the rise of the activist generation. Indeed, an Afrobarometer survey at the time found that there was strong opposition to any attempt to subvert the democratic process, with 68 percent of its citizens believing that the opposition parties were justified in filing their case. 

“Nine months later, in February 2020, bolstered by its people, Malawi’s supreme court mandated fresh elections … The courts have really stood up to defend democracy, but so [has] civil society.” 

The fact that a coordinated opposition, protesters in the streets and independent judges in Malawi’s high courts sufficiently safeguarded Malawi’s democracy, cannot be overemphasized. 

Indeed, Malawians should be commended for adopting a “home-grown ownership” of this election process. 

Looking into the future with cautious optimism

As Malawians thronged the streets celebrating and dancing, and as the new President was sworn in, it was indeed a breath of fresh air.

As Dr Chakwera began forming his government and the realisation that I had been selected as one of the Ministers in his Cabinet, I sat down and reflected on the journey. A journey that saw blood, sweat and tears. A journey that had seen Malawians hit the streets demonstrating against the government more than any other time in the history of the country.

Today I find myself as Minister in a new ministry of Civic Education and National Unity. This is a perfect challenge for me. As someone who was being accused of being a terrorist and of bringing chaos in the country by former President Mutharika, now I find myself at the centre of promoting national unity. 

I am again reminded of Mandela’s words that it looks impossible until it happens. I sign off by sharing in solidarity with the oppressed people of Africa what Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

Timothy Mtambo is the Commander in Chief of the CFT People Power Movement and the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity in Malawi. 

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SAHRDN and CDD condemn the bombings of Canal de Moçambique premises and the continued attacks on press freedoms in Mozambique

August 24, 2020

Maputo and Johannesburg

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and the Center for Democracy and Development – Mozambique (CDD) strongly condemn the petrol-bombing of the Canal de Moçambique offices in Maputo, Mozambique.  Canal de Moçambique, https://canal.co.mz/ is one of the most credible, public interest  independent media outlet in Mozambique. This attack is a serious blow to the already dire situation of press freedom in Mozambique, which according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index is lowly ranked at 104 out of 180 countries.  SAHRDN and CDD calls on the authorities in Mozambique to protect press freedoms and to swiftly conduct an independent, credible and robust  investigation into this attack.

According to preliminary reports from a credible source, it is reported that on August 23, 2020, at around 20:00 hours (CAT), yet to be identified individuals broke into Canal de Moçambique newspaper facilities, poured fuel on all the furniture and computers and set off a homemade bomb. All the equipment and other accessories in the building were reduced to ashes. Canal de Moçambique has been highly critical of and exposed a raft of systemic corruption cases linked to the government of Mozambique.

In 2019, MISA-Mozambique reported that “a Maputo court acquitted the editor of the weekly paper “Canal de Mocambique”, Matias Guente, who had been accused of libel because of a caricature of one of the directors of the Bank of Mozambique, Joana Matsombe, which the paper had published”.

“Democracy dies in darkness, and Canal de Moçambique has been a consistent guiding light in promoting accountable governance and is only being targeted for speaking truth to power, and for holding those in power to account. We demand that the Government of Maputo carry-out an in-depth investigation into this bombing and more importantly, that it upholds its own constitution and respect regional and international human rights laws and treaties, which regards media freedoms as the oxygen for a democratic society”

Professor Adriano Nuvunga, who is the Executive Director for CDD-Mozambique

SAHRDN and CDD urges the government of Mozambique to lead by example in its official capacity as the new SADC chairperson and respect the fundamental right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press, which is under attack in Mozambique and in the SADC region especially during this COVID-19 period.

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ProtectCivicSpace

RespectFreedoms

For more information please contact Washington Katema, Regional Programmes Manager at wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27 73 620 2608

Stop interfering with the Right to Fair Trial in Zimbabwe

24 August 2020

GABORONE/HARARE/JOHANNESBURG/LILONGWE /LUSAKA /MAPUTO/WINDHOEK

Today the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network joined hands with civil society from Africa and beyond to call on the judiciary in Zimbabwe to stop interfering with the rights of prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa to represent her client, the detained internationally recognized journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Hopewell has a constitutional right to be defended by a lawyer of his choice before an independent and impartial tribunal.

In an unprecedented act of rallying together of civil society to defend a leading human rights defender in Africa civil society argued that the right to freedom of expression of Beatrice Mtetwa is protected under international law. In terms of Principle 23 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (UN Basic Principles):

“Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights…..”

The right to freedom of expression is also “guaranteed in section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 19 (2) of the International Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter)” read the statement.

Consistent with the previous observations of the SAHRDN that the phenomenon of judicial persecution had reached unprecedented levels, the civil society leaders expressed concern at the violation of the right to fair trial.  “By disqualifying Beatrice Mtetwa, the court has undermined the accused person (Hopewell Chin’ono)’s right to legal representation, which is guaranteed in section 70(1) (d) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 14(3) (b) of the ICCPR and article 7(1) of the African Charter. Subsequently, this undermines the accused person’s right to a fair trial” read the statement.

Notable pan-African leaders of civil society who signed on to the statement include Justice Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice of Kenya 2013-2017, Alice Mogwe (Botswana), Nikita Kaunda, Achieng Akena (Kenya), Chikosa Banda (Malawi), Don Deya (Kenya), Makanatsa Makonese, Muleya Mwananyanda (Zambia), Martin Masiga (Uganda), Norman Tjombe, Tiseke Kasambala (Malawi), Dr. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, Dr. Musa Kika, Dr. Rose Nakayi, Dr Walter Chambati, Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Professor Danwood Chirwa, Professor Dzodzi Tsikata, Professor Hugh Corder, Professor Issa Shivji, Professor Michelo Hansungule, Professor Paris Yeros, Professor Praveen Jha, Professor Reg Austin and Professor Adriano Alfredo Nuvunga to name a few.

We call on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of everyone, including Beatrice Mtetwa’s right to freedom of expression and to practice her profession, the right of the accused persons to a fair trial including legal representation by a lawyer of their choice.

WeStandwithBeatrice

StandwitHER

For further information please contact Washington Katema the Regional Programmes Manager and Team Leader at the SAHRDN on wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27736202608 or Simphiwe Sidu the Regional Legal Adviser at SAHRDN on ssidu@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27766758168

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

Zambia recorded its first two cases of the Covid-19 virus on 18 March 2020. At first, the virus appeared to be contained but gradually, as the number of local transmission cases increased, the virus increased exponentially. According to the latest official statistics, Zambia has recorded a total of 10,372 cases of Covid-19 (by 21 August) with the official number of Covid-19 related deaths at 274.

Zambia is hitting the peak of the pandemic.  Yet the government has announced that there will be no lockdown, so as to avoid curtailing the means of survival for ordinary Zambians. This is because the majority of Zambians live from hand-to-mouth, a situation now made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, we have been very lucky. We are not seeing apocalyptic numbers of deaths and our health facilities are just about coping with the numbers of the sick. Only a few months ago, in May, President Edgar Lungu announced that the government was advising citizens to follow the health guidelines laid down. He talked about “transitioning to a new normal”. But effectively our “new normal” meant each man for himself and God for us all.

Whilst the jury is out on whether the official figures tally with the actual numbers, it appears that the pandemic in Zambia is being managed reasonably well. Despite a shortage of protective clothing and testing kits, the health facilities are generally adequate.

However, as with many countries across the globe, the pandemic has also created an opportunity for political expediency that has had a detrimental effect on the human rights situation in the country. This is in the context of the fact that Zambia will be going to the polls to elect a new government in 2021.

All roads lead to 2021 and as a result political expediency has been the order of the day. For example, the Government has introduced two statutory instruments under the Public Health Act in order to manage the pandemic. Both are thin on the details as to how the health regulations will be enforced.

Just a few days ago the police spokesperson, Esther Mwata Katongo announced that the police would start arresting and fining people the equivalent of $US39 for not wearing masks in public. The police did start making arrests accordingly, but the Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo rescinded the decision days later as it became apparent that there was no legal backing for the move in the health regulations. 

In terms of human rights, probably Zambia’s most well-known Covid-19 victim is Prime Television, a popular independent television station that had its broadcasting licence revoked following its refusal to broadcast government adverts and programmes on the Covid-19 pandemic for free in the midst of the economic crisis facing the country. The current Zambian government already has a history of clamping down on media freedoms following the closure of the largest independent newspaper in Zambia, The Post in 2017, and various other radio stations that have been critical of the government. The official reason given for closing the television station was that its broadcasting licence had expired.

Another casualty has been the restrictions on freedom of assembly. Public gatherings in Zambia are governed by the Public Order Act, a notorious piece of legislation whose constitutionality has been challenged several times on the basis that its provisions are arbitrary and not necessary in a democratic state. To adhere to the provisions of the Public Order Act, Zambians now have to get authority from the Ministry of Health or the Local Authority to hold public gatherings of more than five people.

These restrictions are being selectively applied. Government officials and individuals considered close to the ruling party freely hold rallies and large public gatherings without the appearance of any health and safety regulations being adhered to. Zambians have been told that government officials cannot be blamed for people following them around. This has led to many Zambians either resenting any restrictions placed on them or believing that the pandemic is a hoax.

However, when it comes to dissenting voices such as opposition political parties, the restrictions are applied with efficient (and sometimes inefficient) responses. A group of youth protestors attempted to hold a public protest on the socio-economic challenges faced by Zambian youth on 22nd June 2020. The police came out fully armed in riot gear and roamed around the streets in armoured vehicles in an attempt to intimidate the protestors into stopping their protest.

However, the quick-thinking youth took their protest to the bush and beamed it live to an audience of around 300,000 people on their social media platforms. In June there were reports of police arresting opposition members for attempting to hold intra-party elections.

As always, the hardest hit by any crisis are the poor and vulnerable. As with most countries, we are grappling with how to send our children back to school.

Like countries all over the world, our ailing economy has been further crippled by the loss of business and resulting unemployment or underemployment. The government has partnered with donors to provide social protection to the most vulnerable but with 58% of the Zambian population of around 17 million living below the poverty line according to 2015 World Bank figures, resources are stretched. There has been little done to ensure that the rights most affected by the pandemic are still protected, promoted and fulfilled and this is impacting on the overall effectiveness of the government’s response to the pandemic.

Ultimately, whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has been a universal crisis, Zambia’s is a crisis of leadership. Our government needs to put the interests of the country above partisan interests and unite the country regardless of the upcoming general elections. We need to take a human rights-based approach to tackling the pandemic specifically and to tackling governance issues generally.

Our “new normal” should leave no one behind. 

Linda Kasonde is a lawyer and human rights activist heading Chapter One Foundation, a civil society organisation that promotes and protects human rights and the rule of law. She is also an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow.