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Human Rights forum confronts government over missing Dzamara

by Kudakwashe Vhenge

By Trevor Makonyonga

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum (The Forum) has confronted the government and its departments over the disappearance of journalist, Itai Dzamara, exactly six years ago.

In a statement, the collective board of human rights organisations blasted the police for being “reluctant and uninterested” in looking into this high-profile case.

The Forum said, “Following this enforced disappearance, Itai Dzamara’s family made a report at Glen Norah Police Station. Despite the police report and persistent widespread calls for investigations into the abduction, the Zimbabwe Republic Police has over the years remained reluctant and uninterested in diligently looking into the matter.

“High Court Judge, Justice David Mangota, ordered the police to fully investigate the disappearance of Dzamara. However, no meaningful investigation has taken place, as evidenced by the absence of any comprehensive reports submitted by the authorities to the courts.”

The government was also questioned on the continued occurrence of abductions as the 2017 government has had more cases recorded. The Forum also made reference to the abduction of student journalistTawanda Muchehiwa.

“With the ushering in of the ‘new dispensation’ in 2017, cases of abductions reminiscent of the politically motivated abductions in 2008 where the Forum documented 511 abductions have been resuscitated. In 2019, the Forum documented 86 cases of abductions and torture of political activists, human rights defenders and perceived dissenting voices. In 2020, the Forum documented a further 34 cases of abductions and torture. 

“Though authorities deny their participation in all the cases of abductions, including the case of Dzamara, the abduction and torture of Tawanda Muchehiwa on 30July 2020 which was caught on CCTV bears resemblance to the abduction of Dzamara. In the same fashion, Muchehiwa was dragged into a white vehicle and disappeared for 2 days in which he emerged with gruelling tales of torture,” said the Forum.

The government’s commitment to reforming is questioned as the Forum notes inconsistencies where reforms are promised but not actually experienced.

“The ‘new dispensation’ prides itself on being reformists. However, the continued abductions and torture of citizens speak to a chilling intolerance to dissent and critique and a State bent on consolidating power at the expense of fundamental human rights of citizens. Despite the reformist agenda preached by the new dispensation, the Forum has realized an increase in organized violence and torture, attacks against democratic space, and attacks against free speech and freedom of expression. The ongoing weaponization of the criminal justice system for political gain is another example of a government failing to implement its reformist agenda.

“We call on the government to mobilize the full extent of its resources to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dzamara’s abduction and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. Dzamara’s family and the generality of Zimbabweans deserve answers on where he is, what happened on 9 March 2015 and who is responsible for his disappearance.

We remind the Government of Zimbabwe of its constitutional obligations to safeguard the right to life and personal liberty, the right to participate in peaceful political activities, the right to demonstrate and petition peacefully and the citizens’ right to express themselves freely and without repercussion”.

The government was called on to show its commitment to protecting the constitutionally-guaranteed human rights of all Zimbabweans, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation. The Forum also encouraged government to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safe return of Itai Dzamara and to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

Government was also urged to implement provisions of the various UN conventions Zimbabwe is a signatory of.

“The government ratifies, domesticates and fully implements provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol,” said the Forum said.

Itai Dzamara is a Zimbabwean journalist, civil society activist and leader of Occupy Africa Unity Square who on 9 March 2015 was abducted by five unidentified men from a barbershop in Harare’s Glenview suburb. He was reportedly handcuffed before being taken away in a white pick-up truck with blurred registration number plates. Dzamara is said to have been assaulted and unlawfully detained in separate other incidences. 

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