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Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Maverick Citizen launched the Southern Africa Weekly Human Rights Roundup, aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. The Human Rights Roundup integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

As Covid-19 takes hold in Africa, with rising numbers of infections, governments should prioritise the protection of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) who remain vital vehicles for social change and rights protection in the region.

The Covid-19 crisis has triggered disproportionate risks for marginalised and vulnerable communities globally and has made plain the structural inequalities built into our world. Across the globe, there has been an increase in authoritarianism and state repression in response to the pandemic, and southern Africa is no exception. Governments in the region have cracked down on dissent, activism and rights and increasingly securitised their enforcement of Covid-19 regulations. Thousands of citizens face fines, arrests, harassment and violence for violating Covid-19 regulations. 

WHRDS have played a significant role in fighting against this rollback of rights. Over the past three months, my organisation, the Advancing Rights in Southern Africa Program at Freedom House (ARISA) has spoken to WHRDs from Angola, Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa and participated in regional discussions to assess the impact of the pandemic and government responses on WHRDs and their work. We found that in addition to the unrelenting nature and impact of the public health crisis, repressive government actions pose a serious threat to WHRDs and the rights of vulnerable and marginalized communities.

International human rights organisations have warned that Covid-19 measures in many countries have further restricted the space for civic activism. WHRDs in southern Africa have long faced government-backed threats and harassment in retaliation for their activism. Those who speak out are routinely subjected to arrests, threats of, and acts of violence, and gendered attacks and harassment, including online.

In the context of Covid-19, this has been reinforced by the particular effects of the pandemic on women, such as the additional burden of care, restricted access to health services, and a reduction in income for women in the informal sector. WHRDs are at the forefront of mitigating these negative effects, calling for greater women’s representation in government health responses and ensuring that women’s rights are protected. This has brought them in direct opposition to some governments and led to attacks and their exclusion from national government health responses to the pandemic.

For example, in Zimbabwe, security forces arrested, abducted and tortured three women members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance in May, after they participated in a citizen demonstration over the lack of government assistance for poor and vulnerable communities during the pandemic. The women were released but later arrested for violating lockdown regulations and making supposedly false reports about their abduction and torture. They spent several days in custody – putting them at great risk of Covid-19 infection – before they were released on bail. 

In South Africa, attacks have taken place in the context of gendered socio-economic rights violations. Soon after a government declared nationwide lockdown in March, security forces evicted hundreds of shack dwellers in parts of the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, despite a moratorium on evictions during the Covid-19 crisis. Evictions often disproportionately and adversely affect women and children. Gender activists seeking to prevent local authority-led evictions faced threats of arrest and violent treatment by the security forces. Police fired rubber bullets at scores of community members and activists protesting the evictions in the Western Cape.

WHRDs face additional barriers of economic and structural discrimination, which have been worsened by the pandemic and government restrictions. WHRDs and human rights organizations in Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana informed ARISA that government resources for Covid-19 have failed to reach WHRDs and women’s rights organisations working in remote areas even though many are on the frontline of pandemic responses.

Organisations providing legal services for women reported a reduction in access to courts and legal information on women’s rights due to travel restrictions mainly in rural areas. Organisations have been unable to reach women who have in turn struggled to access courts for adjudication and redress.

In Lesotho and Eswatini, women’s rights organisations reported that they had struggled to provide legal services to women involved in land grabbing and land dispute cases. The organisations reported a fear of a spike in women being evicted from their land due to a lack of access to their services and legal dispute mechanisms.

Indigenous People’s Organisations (IPOs) and those working with indigenous communities in Angola, Botswana and South Africa have also stressed the specific effects of Covid-19 on indigenous women. Indigenous women face multiple layers of discrimination and limited access to health and other social services. Government regulations in response to the pandemic have heightened these challenges.

IPOs in Botswana informed ARISA about the lack of information on the pandemic in indigenous languages and a lack of resources to specifically address indigenous peoples’ needs. Indigenous women, who often have lower literacy rates but have the greater burden of care than indigenous men, are likely to be most affected by the dearth of information.

WHRDs have also reported that governments have failed to take the impact of Covid-19 on women’s livelihoods into account in their legislative responses to the pandemic. While various national regulations in the region have allowed for essential services, including food manufacturing and supermarkets to remain operational, informal traders – a large percentage of whom are women – have been excluded by these regulations.

Initial lockdown measures in almost all countries in the region required informal traders and vendors to vacate their trading sites. In many instances, these bans have remained largely in place, even as countries have eased their lockdowns. The bans and restrictions have impacted rural women and women informal traders.

In Angola and Eswatini, women’s rights organisations reported that many rural women farmers were unable to sell their produce and lost earnings. In Lesotho, Covid-19 regulations failed to include informal traders and rural women farmers as essential goods and services providers leading to questions of whether rural women farmers and traders could continue to operate without violating regulations. In Namibia, the City Council of Windhoek initially closed all informal markets before re-opening some informal markets under strict conditions. In Zimbabwe, even as the government eased restrictions, it retained its ban on informal traders. In one case, police in Mutare, in the eastern province of Manicaland, confiscated and burnt tons of fresh produce at the province’s largest open-air fresh food market as part of enforcing lockdown measures.

WHRDs have also had to deal with a spate of gender-based violence cases during the pandemic. While gender-based violence in southern Africa is endemic, the number of reported cases of violence against women in a number of countries has increased during the pandemic. A women’s rights organization in Lesotho informed ARISA that the country recorded 1,450 cases of gender-based violence, including 12 cases of femicide during the country’s emergency lockdown. They reported that the number had surpassed annual numbers of gender-based violence in the country.

In South Africa, despite police figures indicating a decrease in reported cases of domestic violence during the lockdown period compared to previous years, calls to domestic violence hotlines increased significantly. As Covid-19 restrictive measures eased, a spate of femicides in the country compelled President Cyril Ramaphosa to condemn the rise in gender-based violence cases. Women’s rights activists have called for tougher action by the police and expressed frustration at the slow-pace of reforms to address gender-based violence.

Government-led pandemic health responses in local, national and regional Covid-19 policy and decision-making spaces have in many cases failed to reflect women’s experiences.

Although women constitute over 50% of the poor population in the Southern Africa Development Community, their views are often overlooked. There are few WHRDs or women’s rights organisations represented on national Covid-19 task forces or committees and their expertise and knowledge has not been fully incorporated into public health responses.

In Malawi, WHRDs called for equal representation of women and men in the decision making process after former President Peter Mutharika announced the restructuring of a special cabinet committee on Covid-19 to a task force in May. Only four out of the 21 members of the task force were women. Another organisation, Human Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities (HRWGD), made a similar call highlighting the lack of women with disabilities on the task force.

In grappling with these multiple challenges from the pandemic, WHRDs are experiencing significant socio-psychological pressure. They face extra burdens of care in their homes, loss of earnings and the threat of infections in their interactions with communities. In Botswana and Zimbabwe, women journalists informed ARISA that the pandemic had added to their hours of work and placed extra burdens on their lives. This was coupled with the fear of infection due to a lack of protective equipment and overexposure to the virus in the course of their work.

The reduced public visibility of WHRDs and their reporting on rights due to Covid-19 restrictions has heightened the risk of violence for many WHRDs and further impacted their social and mental wellbeing. WHRDs reported that they felt less safe during Covid-19 lockdowns. Some reported experiencing more online harassment after they turned to online forms of activism and mobilisation during the pandemic.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The crisis has also led to different forms of mobilisation by WHRDS, including in responses to the crisis. Throughout southern Africa, WHRDs are providing essential services, distributing food, care packages and protective equipment to communities and bolstering government responses. They are working closely with local authorities and donors to generate awareness about the needs of the most vulnerable and ensuring that they are catered for. WHRDs have also shone a spotlight on national inequalities and inequities and engendered critical reflection by governments on the need for rights respecting and inclusive political and socio-economic reforms.

The catalytic role that WHRDs play in the region underscores the need for the introduction of government protections for WHRDs in the region that is not only representative and consultative in approach, but responsive to their multiple and intersectional needs. 

Tiseke Kasambala is the Chief of Party, Advancing Rights in Southern Africa Program.

Johannesburg: Ongoing Human Rights Violations and Disregard of the Rule of Law by the South African National Defence Force against the Marievale Community

In the past several years, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has continuously violated the rights of the residents of Marievale community despite numerous court orders prohibiting the forced eviction and relocation of the community. The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) remains extremely troubled by the government’s failure at local, provincial and national levels to uphold its duties on protecting the basic human rights of the community and obeying the rule of law. These evictions have continued during the COVID-19 pandemic despite Lockdown Regulations explicitly prohibiting the execution of eviction orders during Lockdown periods.

“Although  numerous court orders against the government represented victories  that continue to affirm the rights of the Marievale community, it remains deeply concerning that the continued attacks and intimidation tactics are perpetrated by the SANDF and local government against some of its most vulnerable members of society”, said Arnold Tsunga, Africa Director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Chief Strategy and Technical Advisor of the SAHRDN. “Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society should not continue to suffer at the hands of those who are meant to protect them” he added.

Since the unlawful eviction that occurred in 2017, the Marievale community has obtained a series of court judgments and orders against the state, holding that the community should be allowed back to the their homes, or be provided with adequate alternative accommodation in accordance with their rights.  

On 21 May 2020, representing members of the community, Lawyers for Human Rights obtained a court order interdicting the SANDF and the Municipality “from once again” forcefully relocating the Marievale community. However, in an interview conducted by the ICJ on a visit to the residents of Marievale, community leader Mr. Chris Koitsioe says that the SANDF continues to disregard the court order as it has recently unlawfully evicted a community member without providing alternative accommodation. As explained by Mr. Koitsioe in the video which is included on this post below, the actions of the SANDF and the government over a long period of time have instilled fear amongst members of the community, causing distress of further relocations, evictions, and intimidation, despite the SANDF having now committed to not continue such practices.

The SAHRDN makes the following calls in solidarity with the Marievale community:

  1. The SANDF, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and the Ekurhuleni Municipality must ensure that no further evictions, relocations and intimidation of the Marievale community continues in violation of multiple court orders and the human rights of the community;
  2. That the President, as the Commander in Chief of the SANDF, takes appropriate action to ensure that the violation of the community’s rights by the SANDF on a continuous basis since 2017 is investigated and appropriate action is taken to ensure access to justice and reparation for community members; and
  3. That the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans ensure the accountability of the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans for the violation of the community’s rights by the SANDF on a continuous basis.

Tanzania: Joint CSO letter to Tanzanian President to de-congest prisons and protect rights of detainees

His Excellency

President John Pombe Magufuli United Republic of Tanzania Dar es Salaam Tanzania

May 20, 2020

Your Excellency,

Re: Immediate and urgent measures to protect the rights of prison detainees in Tanzania

We the undersigned non-governmental human rights organizations, welcome your government’s measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, including closing schools, discouraging public gatherings, informing the public, and establishing three Cabinet committees to lead the response.

We particularly welcome recent steps to decongest Tanzania’s prisons, where 3,717 prisoners were pardoned in line with recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, we believe it does not go far enough to alleviate the risk to Tanzania’s prison population and the community at large. Tanzania’s prison conditions make it practically impossible to maintain social-distancing for all detainees and self-isolation for those possibly, or are, infected. Also at risk are prison staff, medical and food service providers, their families, and the communities they interact with. Like many of Tanzania’s regional counterparts, places of detention are overcrowded, have limited access to healthcare, and face hygiene challenges. The WHO has warned that “people deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.” In order to implement strict social distancing, Tanzania’s prison population must be reduced such that the general prison population can maintain at least one meter or greater distance in all directions at all times, in line with current guidelines. In addition, facilities must have enough space to self-isolate those who are ill or have come into contact with infected persons.

On several occasions, your Excellency has noted with concern the overpopulation of Tanzania’s prisons. More than half of the country’s detainees are awaiting trial, many of whom have been detained for years. Effective measures to decongest the country’s prisons need to include releasing many members of this group. As other countries’ experiences show, the failure to take measures to decongest prisons can lead to

prison riots. In response to COVID-19 and the threat to prison populations, neighboring countries like Uganda, in addition to pardoning certain convicted persons, have undertaken to urgently review cases of pre-trial detainees. In Kenya, by fast-tracking hearings through video conferencing, courts were able to release over 5,000 prisoners, including “remandees”. Given the rising numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tanzania, extraordinary measures are required.

We, therefore, call on you to prevail on the relevant authorities to urgently review cases of those in pre-trial detention, including individuals detained on non-bailable offenses and those whose cases are still at the investigation stage.8 Further, the authorities should refrain from custodial arrests for low- level offenses that do not involve the infliction or threat of infliction of serious bodily injury, sexual assault, or a known likelihood of physical harm. Where the arrest and detention of a person is unavoidable, screening measures must be put in place to prevent the infection of persons in detention as well as members of the police.

While taking immediate measures to decongest the prisons and detention centers as recommended above, we urge your government to ensure that facilities continue to adhere to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules). Authorities have directed the lockdown of detention facilities to limit interaction with the outside population. This means prisoners are no longer allowed public visitors, including family members and their legal representatives. Restricting lawyers from meeting their clients jeopardizes the fundamental right to legal representation. Furthermore, the complete isolation of prisoners from friends and family may have an impact on the mental well-being of detainees.

We recommend that Tanzania implement alternative measures, such as video conferencing, allow increased phone calls with family and legal representatives, and permit email and communication at a distance or behind glass partitions.

Currently, while measures are in place for courts to continue to hear some criminal matters through video conferencing, there has been no publicized directive or collaboration between the offices of the Prosecutor General, the Judiciary, or the legal profession to prioritize reducing the number of detainees, particularly those in pre-trial detention. The failure to further decongest prisons, coupled with the restrictions of legal counsel and family visits as detailed above, could aggravate what is already a tense, difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

We therefore respectfully urge that you consult with relevant stakeholders, including the Honourable Minister of Health, the Commissioner-General of Prisons, the Honourable Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Prisons, the Tanganyika Law Society, and other civil society organizations, to put in place a comprehensive COVID-19 plan of action to decongest Tanzania’s prisons. These bodies should agree on a plan to do this, which should be shared with all involved, including prison staff, inmates, and the general public, to minimize unnecessary fear and anxiety.

The Tanzanian government has an obligation to ensure the right to health for everyone under its jurisdiction. Article 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Tanzania is a state party, provides: “Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.” This right, in accordance with the 1995 African Commission Resolution on Prisons in Africa, is extended to prisoners, detainees, and other persons deprived of their liberty.

In light of the above, the undersigned organizations respectfully recommend that the government of Tanzania urgently take the following measures:

  1. Review of cases that could lead to the release of detainees. Courts should continue to hold all critical hearings, including bail hearings and habeas corpus petition hearings. The prosecution should agree to conditional or unconditional release options unless individuals are accused of a serious offense and their release would pose a specific and known risk of harm to others or they are a known flight risk. Pending cases not previously scheduled for hearing can be expedited to facilitate the early disposition of the case;
  2. During this COVID-19 period, authorities should refrain from arresting people for crimes that do not involve serious offenses, and then only arrest if the person would pose a specific and known risk of harm to others, issuing citations instead;
  3. Prisoners who do not meet the criteria for conditional or unconditional release should not be isolated from legal counsel or relatives. Any restrictions on the rights of people deprived of their liberty, including on visitations, should be strictly necessary and proportionate to the health emergency. The government should implement alternatives for prisoners to consult privately with legal counsel, during court proceedings, and within prison facilities. Prisoners must also be allowed contact with their relatives, taking into account social-distancing measures. This can include providing free and adequate access to a telephone, internet, video communication, and other appropriate electronic means, as well as measures to safely receive food and other supplies.
  4. Ensure that all detention facilities are equipped with sufficient and functioning sanitizing equipment and/or other relevant facilities for physical hygiene and that all detainees are regularly

provided (free of charge) with adequate quantities of soap, sanitizing items and access to clean running water.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, which bears on the health and well-being of all Tanzanians. We would be happy to talk by phone with officials involved in addressing these issues.

Sincerely,

  1. Amnesty International
  2. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (Zimbabwe)
  3. Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) (Zambia)
  4. CIVICUS. (South Africa)
  5. Counselling Services Unit (CSU) (Zimbabwe)
  6. Crime prevention, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of ex-prisoners (CRROA). (Lesotho)
  7. EG Justice
  8. Friends of Angola (FoA) (Angola)
  9. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) (South Africa)
  10. Human Rights Watch
  11. Institute for Public Policy Analysis and Implementation (IPPAI.) (Zimbabwe)
  12. Lawyers for Human Rights. (LHR) (South Africa)
  13. Legal and Human Rights Centre (Tanzania)
  14. Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (MANERELA+). (Malawi)
  15. Oasis Network for Community Transformation.
  16. Robert F Kennedy Human Rights (RFK)
  17. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  18. Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) (South Africa)
  19. Southern Africa Network Against Corruption (SANAC). (Zambia)
  20. The Rock of Hope (South Africa)

cc.

The Honorable Chief Justice

The Honorable Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs

The Director of Public Prosecutions

The Commissioner General of Prisons

Open letter on the Xenophobic, racist and inhuman treatment of Africans in China

Together with our umbrella body the PANHRDN and sister sub-regional networks the SAHRDN sent an open letter to the African Union Commission Chairperson, H.E Moussa Faki. In the letter, we call on the African Union and African leaders to demand a complete investigation and immediate remedial action for the inhuman and xenophobic treatment of Africans living in China in the context of COVID-19. Read the letter below

To: H.E Moussa Faki

The Chairperson, African Union Commission

P.O. Box P.O. Box 3243, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

13 April 2020

Your Excellency,

We present our compliments to Your Excellency. The undersigned Peoples represent a broad cross-section of the citizens of the African Union (AU) and include civil society organisations (CSOs), women organisations and feminist movements, labour and students movements, youth organisations, professional associations, lawyers, judges, academicians, business people, clergy, artists, activists, and journalists.

We note with appreciation the AU’s commitment to the continued transforming of the AU from a union of governments to a genuine union of African peoples that values popular participation and ownership by African peoples.

We further appreciate the AU’s commitment to ensuring that Africa is socially, politically and economically integrated. That the continent speaks with one voice in global affairs. We understand the basis and values of partnership that the drive AU Agenda 2063, including the values of equality, mutual accountability, reciprocity, and solidarity. In this regard and given the excellent relationship the AU and the majority of its member states have so far enjoyed with China, we want to register our most profound concern and strongly condemn the recent acts of discrimination, xenophobia, and racism against the Africans in China.

We welcome the statements of the African Group of Ambassadors in Beijing and reactions from different African governments and your good offices in this regard. There is a need to transform these statements into practical action that puts an end to the horrendous dehumanisation of Africans in China.

Your Excellency, Chinese authorities are allegedly forcefully testing, quarantining and inhumanely treating African people in Guangdong Province in particular. This discrimination and stigmatisation of Africans include being made to undergo epidemic investigation and the Nucleic Acid Test forcefully. The Africans have also been subjected to fourteen (14) days quarantine even if they have not traveled outside their jurisdictions or come into contact with infected persons, or had close contact or showing any symptoms of the COVID-19. This treatment is in violation of international human rights laws and principles. It is inhuman and against all principles of dignity and shared humanity that should ideally guide China-Africa relations. Singling out only Africans is a xenophobic and racist act contrary to the spirit of FOCAC 8.

Your Excellency, Africa’s strong cooperation economic ties with China, should not thrive at the cost of human rights and human dignity. These are the core principles of our Constitutive Act 2000.

Your Excellency, these despicable events and other recurrent complaints regarding illicit activities by Chinese businesses in Africa now demand that the framework of cooperation establish clear standards of mutual accountability. Such standards of accountability must be formulated with the active participation of African citizens. We believe that without strong mutual accountability frameworks, the message of solidarity preached by China towards Africans, will ring hollow. The participation of African people in defining the framework of the partnership will ensure that going forward China-Africa partnership has a human face and is reflected in Chinese business conduct in Africa and our mutual solidarity is also a reality reflected on the streets of Chinese cities and provinces.

Your Excellency, a participatory and inclusive framework of partnership that reflects the Accra, Busan and Mexico principles will place human and peoples’ rights at the centre. This framework will address the imbalance in trade; ballooning debt; restrain dumping of inferior quality goods by strengthening standards monitoring and control illicit financial outflows and corrupt practices by Chinese businesses operating in Africa. These decisive interventions are critical to preserve the dignity of Africa and its people.

Your Excellency, the AU has done well by officially protesting to its Chinese counterparts. We now urge your good offices and African leaders to demand a full and independent investigation into the violations referred to above and immediate remedial action is taken. At the very least, we believe that the spirit of solidarity and partnership demands that China apologises and makes good the grave offence to the African Peoples’. We believe that China understands that we, as African people, deserve respect and equal treatment.

We remain, at your disposal to respond to any additional queries that you may have via Hassan Shire Hassans@defenddefenders.org, phone +256772752752 or Fatou Diagne panafrica@defenddefenders.org phone +221773335845 or Arnold Tsunga atsunga@southernafricadefenders.africa phone +27716405926. We take this opportunity to reassure Your Excellency of our highest considerations once again.

You can sign on to the letter here: http://chng.it/Y9TYyxVC

Please read the full letter with signatures below

Launch of Ubuntu hub cities (UHCS) for protection of HRDs: SAHRDN chairperson Arnold Tsunga’s remarks

The Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) is a sub-regional network that works to protect and promote the rights of HRDS within the sub-region of Southern Africa. It offers rapid and practical support to HRDs facing persecution in Southern Africa. It is a member of the Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) that coordinates and coheres the work across the African continent of protecting HRDs facing persecution for their work as HRDs. SAHRDN is proud of this association.

Today marks the culmination of what started in earnest when Hassan Shire, DIRCO’s Bra Pitso and I had a brainstorming session in Geneva a few years ago and recognised that we already had hubs in Africa where HRDs go to for protection when faced with persecution but just needed a project that recognised this reality. It was also recognised at this brainstorming session that the reason why these were already safe zones was because of the Ubuntu value and principle that made people in Africa instinctively want to look after each other during times of difficulties as a natural socialisation process on the continent.

Allow me to use the example of the current crisis in Zimbabwe to illustrate why the Ubuntu Hub Cities (UHCs) for protection of HRDs is so important.

The beginning of the year, saw President Mnangagwa announcing an 150% price increase in fuel prices.The Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and a prominent human rights defender (HRD), Pastor Evan Mawarire, called for a three-day strike starting on Monday, 14 January 2019, against the increases of fuel price and worsening economic conditions.

Faced with serious protests the government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) committed violations of basic human rights of its people such as blocking the Internet, including social media; deploying the army, the police and security agents in high-density suburbs of the major cities in Zimbabwe, where they opened fire on protesters and randomly carried out door-to-door raids through forced entry, by breaking down doors and windows. Further the GoZ, through its security minister, blamed civil society, pressure groups and the main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, for orchestrating the protests for regime change. 

Many HRDs, democracy activists, legitimate political opponents and their families faced persecution including torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions and summary mass trials without effective legal representation. Pre-trial fair trial guarantees provided for under the Zimbabwe constitution and international human rights instruments that Zimbabwe has signed and ratified were not respected with bail generally denied as a routine. The conviction rate was unusually high and long prison sentences were meted out. 

The weaponisation of the law as an instrument of persecution resulted in the members of the Law Society of Zimbabwe taking the unusual action of publicly demonstrating. Given this sad turn of events, the SAHRDN was inundated with requests for protection by HRDs from Zimbabwe

The SAHRDN received more than 40 applications from the Zimbabwean HRDs requesting assistance in the form of accommodation, transport and subsistence inside and outside Zimbabwe. The countries of destination for HRDs fleeing Zimbabwe, have so far been South Africa (over 95%); Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Kenya. Many of them need a long-term grant that can extend to at least a month until the danger passes. The applicants range from civil society leaders, councilors, Member of Parliaments, student leadership organizations, pressure groups as well as political opposition members. Everyday more and more applications come in. 

We are doing our best to give the best support to them but we are however struggling due to limited funds and resources. Many of the situations require urgent attention. 

As of today we can confirm that we have assisted about 24 HRDs with external and internal temporary relocations, with ages ranging from 24 years up to 65 years old. The total number of males assisted is 20 and for females it is 4. Regrettably we have turned down a number of applications that are deserving simply because we cannot afford to help everyone in need.

Total number of assisted HRDs where Internal or External

Internal6        
External18      
Total24        

Type of Human Rights Defenders that we have assisted

Councilors6
Civil Society7
Pressure groups2
Student Leadership organisation4
Doctors3
Others2
Total24

We are still figuring ways of assisting the others. The main threats that the human rights defenders having been facing and are still facing include, abductions, torture, judicial persecution and arbitrary arrests. The mapping by the security sector of where the HRDs reside has been done with precision and the HRDs are unable to sleep at their homes due to nocturnal raids.

In conclusion we anticipate 2019 to be a busy year for the network as the continent of Africa is faced with more than 20 elections. Election cycles are a trigger of general persecution and targeting of HRDs because regrettably in many countries power is seen as an end in itself and therefore at any cost.  In the sub region of Southern Africa six elections are to be held this year. According to Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), the following Southern African Countries will conduct elections this year

MalawiPresident, National Assembly & local21 May 2019
MozambiquePresident, National Assembly & provincial15 Oct 2019
NamibiaPresident & National AssemblyOct 2019
South AfricaNational Assembly & Provincial LegislaturesApr/May 2019
President by National Assembly2019 after May elections
BotswanaNational Assembly & localOct 2019
President (by National Assembly)2019 after Oct elections
MadagascarNational Assembly2019?
Provincial, regional & local2019

This means a lot of Human rights defenders will require protection. We therefore cannot emphasize enough the urgent need of the Ubuntu Hubs Cities for protection of HRDs. I thank Jacob van Garderen for representing the SAHRDN so ably in processes with PAHRDN colleagues that have lead to this launch. Thank you very much indeed!