By Byron Mutingwende
Civil society organisations have voiced concern over government’s silence on the whereabouts of missing human rights activist and journalist Itai Dzamara and urged authorities to account for him.
Amnesty International urged Zimbabwean authorities to honour the promise they made to investigate “all the leads to establish the whereabouts” of Dzamara, on Friday 9 March 2018, a day that marks the third anniversary of his enforced disappearance.
Amnesty International said President Emmerson Mnangagwa made the commitment to account for Dzamara at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2016 while he was Vice President.
“As Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa personally announced on behalf of the Zimbabwe government that they are actively investigating the disappearance of Itai Dzamara. Yet three months since his inauguration as President, we are all still in the dark,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“Dzamara’s family and the world, need to know that no stone is being left unturned in the pursuit of justice for Itai.”
Itai Dzamara was a well-known critic of former president Robert Mugabe’s government. He publicly called for Mugabe to resign for what he said was his failure to manage the country’s failing economy.
He was abducted on 9 March 2015 by five unidentified men while he was at a barber shop in the Glen View suburb of Harare. On Saturday 7 March, before his abduction, he had addressed a rally in the capital Harare where he called for mass action to address the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe.
Witnesses say that his abductors handcuffed him and forced him into a white truck with concealed number plates before driving off.
Dzamara was well-known to the authorities and had previously been abducted, unlawfully detained and severely beaten by state security agents. Amnesty International believes he is a victim of enforced disappearance.
Zimbabwe has a long history of enforced disappearances of government critics and activists. In 2008, dozens of opposition and human rights activists were forcibly disappeared for weeks in a crackdown. The state repeatedly denied its involvement, but many activists were later found in state custody, while the fate and whereabouts of others remain unknown.
“People don’t just vanish into thin air. Someone out there knows what happened to Itai Dzamara,” said Deprose Muchena.
“The government must scale up Itai’s search. Those who are found to have been behind his abduction and concealment of his whereabouts must be brought to justice in proceedings that meet fair trial standards. Impunity must not be allowed to thrive.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights) weighed in, insisting that authorities have a constitutional duty to guarantee the personal security of all Zimbabweans, regardless of their political beliefs and affiliation.
Dzamara’s abduction followed a spat of arrests, assaults and interrogation over his criticism of the government’s human rights and economic policies.
“Dzamara’s unresolved abduction, like other cases of activists who were abducted and have not been accounted for, is a blight on the conscience of the nation,” Zimrights said..
The human rights defenders urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to investigate the abduction and reach closure on the issue, also in line with a High Court order passed in March 2015, which tasked the law enforcement institutions to find the activist.
That ruling means that the government has a responsibility to find him and answerable to lack of progress in resolving the criminal act. Zimrights encouraged the government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Person from Enforced Disappearances.
Heal Zimbabwe said the fact that Dzamara continues missing and unaccounted for exposes Government’s insincerity in establishing his whereabouts.
Dzamara just like any citizen, it said, deserves justice and the fact that he was abducted for democratically expressing his constitutional rights of petitioning and demonstrating is not only deplorable but inhumane.
“In addition, enforced abductions are illegal and are a violation of human rights freedoms and the Government’s constitutional mandate is to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms. To Heal Zimbabwe, enforced disappearance remain a serious violation of human rights and a crime. Section 53 of the Constitution provides for Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Such fundamental human rights and freedoms are to be enjoyed by every citizen without selective application.”
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) implored the Zimbabwean government to desist from using force as well as elimination tactics to silence dissenting voices.
“State brutality has no place in modern democracy and CiZC is concerned that the state has been the biggest culprit in as far as human rights abuses is concerned.”