HEADS OF CIVIL SOCIETY COALITIONS C/0 ZIMBABWE HUMAN RIGHTS NGO FORUM 8TH FLOOR BLUEBRIDGE, EASTGATE, HARARE
11 March 2013 H.E. President Robert Gabriel Mugabe Munhumutapa Government Offices Harare Zimbabwe Your Excellency REF: THE REFUSAL BY THE ZIMBABWE ELECTORAL COMMISSION TO ACCREDIT SOME NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS AS OBSERVERS, CITING “ONGOING INVESTIGATIONS BY THE POLICE” Your Excellency, the above matter refers. We, as Civic Society Organisations (CSOs) operating in Zimbabwe and fully abiding by the laws of this country, wish to categorically advise that we can no longer overlook or accept the continued harassment of our members and consequent criminalisation of our legitimate activities. We wish to place on record our collective outrage at the refusal by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to allow our fellow CSOs to accredit as domestic observers ahead of the constitutional referendum scheduled to take place on 16 March 2013. The refusal was reportedly on the grounds that the said organisations were “under criminal investigations” and need to produce proof of acquittal before their applications for accreditation can be considered. It is our unequivocal contention that ZEC acted outside the purview of its constitutional mandate, in presuming to assign guilt to parties who have not been pronounced guilty in competent courts of law and who should, for all intents and purposes – including the purpose of accreditation to observe the referendum, be presumed innocent, until proven otherwise. In light of this specific instance, and the incessant and well-documented harassment of CSOs that has preceded the referendum process, we wish to notify you as a Principal of the Inclusive Government, and as a custodian of this constitutional process, that we will urge our members to withdraw completely from observation of the referendum process en masse, if members are cavalierly barred from accreditation without lawful cause. We are disturbed by ZEC's actions, particularly as the affected organisations were clearly acceptable as “ COPAC's agents” in terms of popularising and educating people on its draft, but are suddenly not acceptable as mere observers of the process of voting on the same. We respect ZEC and value its independence in carrying out its mandate, but believe that this decision is not only dependent on some unknown quantities, but is ultra vires the Constitution of Zimbabwe, and flies in the face of the age old understanding of presumptive innocence and the constitutional right to protection of the law. We are convinced that the decision by ZEC to bar organisations like the Zimbabwe Human Rights Assocation from accrediting to observe the referendum - particularly when such organisations have historically never had a challenge in accrediting to observe similar processes in the past - is an indication of underhand machinations at play that go beyond the operations of the institution itself.
It is not totally unforeseeable - particularly when considered in the context of the blitz of the last few weeks - that the bulk of CSOs can be placed under police investigation ahead of the elections, and be barred from carrying out their organisational and patriotic duties of observation and participation in civic process, based on such spurious “charges”. We therefore find it necessary to take a stand on the above matter specifically, and also on the need for political parties and Government to guarantee the non-victimisation of CSOs as a means of facilitating peaceful political processes including the referendum and subsequent elections. We will be awaiting a public reversal of this unlawful ZEC decision by close of business on Wednesday 13 March 2013 and a swift return to compliance with the Constitution and the Referendums Act, Electoral Act and relevant regulations. If it does not materialise, we will have no option but to take the regrettable step of placing your high office, and ZEC, by copy of this letter, on notice, that we will proceed to mobilise our members to withdraw from observation of the process and put into motion various actions that we deem to be an appropriate response to what we see as ZEC's ludicrous stance on the accreditation of ZimRights and other organisations in similar circumstances. It is common cause that the region and continent at large is invested in ensuring smooth and lawful processes for the referendum and upcoming elections, which must comply with national laws, as well as regional and continental guidelines and good practices. The action by ZEC puts the last four years of the Global Political Agreement and the positive work of the Inclusive Government at great risk, and we trust that the Principals will take swift action to ensure that this has not been in vain. Yours Sincerely
McDonald Lewanika Director – Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition For and on Behalf of The CSO Heads of Coalitions and Networks