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‘Deregistration of CSOs Curtails Freedom Of Association Ahead of Elections’, Human Rights Watch

By Prisca Manyiwa Masuku

International non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch has urged Zimbabwean authorities to reregister the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) deregistered a week ago, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The 291 CSOs were deregistered on allegations of failing to comply with the prescribed operational guidelines outlined in the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (Chapter 17:05).

Amid fears of possible infringement of the public’s human rights during elections, Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the deregistration of CSO ahead of elections to be held later this year.    

“Zimbabwe should reregister hundreds of civil society groups whose registration it has withdrawn, and amend its Private Voluntary Organization Act to bring it in line with its obligations to protect freedom of association.

“The government should also cancel an amendment that would bar groups from ‘political’ activity under threat of criminal penalties.

“On January 22, 2023, Zimbabwean authorities announced that they had revoked the registration of 291 non-governmental and civil society organizations for ‘noncompliance with the provisions of Private Voluntary Organization Act’.

Human Rights Watch criticized the law as retrogressive when it was being drafted in 2004 and raised alarm on its potential violations of the right to freedom of association,” read a statement by the Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch deputy Africa director Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz criticised
the repression of civil society groups in the country.

“Zimbabwe’s repression of civil society organizations needs to stop, especially in light of the general election this year.

“The government needs to stop using the Private Voluntary Organization Act as a tool to silence the exercise of fundamental democratic rights.”

The Private Voluntary Organization Act is incompatible with international human rights law standards on freedom of association to which Zimbabwe is a party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The African Union and the Southern African Development Community should intervene, Human Rights Watch said.

“They should urge President Mnangagwa not to sign the amendment into law. They should also urge the government to reconcile the Private Voluntary Organization Act with AU and SADC standards, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, AU Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, and SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.”

“The credibility of the upcoming general election, and whether it guarantees Zimbabwe’s citizens the right to genuinely choose their representatives, will be closely linked to the ability of civil society to monitor and report on the election process,” Budoo-Scholtz said.

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