This comes three months after Boris Johnson’s government slapped four Zimbabwean security officials with sanctions over alleged human rights abuses.
Applying a new sanctions regime following its exit from the European Union, the UK cited the Zanu-PF government’s crackdown on opposition protesters in January 2019 which killed 17 people, and post-election violence in 2018, which claimed six lives.
A motion discussed on April 26 on Zimbabwe revealed that UK legislators were getting more concerned about the manner in which the former British colony was abusing citizens’ rights, as well as issues of gender-based violence on female politicians.
UK Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, was quizzed by UK MPs about the Zimbabwean humanitarian crisis.
Baroness Margaret Mary Ritchie of Downpatrick demanded to know how the UK government was assessing the rights abuses, especially those targeted at females and political activists in Zimbabwe.
Lord Ahmad said the Zimbabwean crisis remained a matter of concern on the UK’s priority list.
“We remain seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. It is one of the UK’s 30 human rights priority countries globally,” he said.
“On February 1, 2021, the UK announced new sanctions against four Zimbabwean security sector chiefs for serious human rights violations. We are concerned at the high rates of gender-based violence which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 response, including reports of harassment by police officers enforcing COVID-19 lockdown laws. In an effort to safeguard women’s rights, we spent £3 470 000 in 2020/21 to support the work of civil society organisations working to tackle gender-based violence.”
Lord Ahmad said the UK was particularly concerned about the arrest of opposition figures and civic society activists across the country.
“We are concerned by the unacceptable pattern of arrests of prominent opposition and civil society figures. The Minister for Africa has regularly raised concern about the treatment of political opponents, most recently on March 29 in response to the harassment of opposition members Ms (Joanah) Mamombe, Ms (Cecilia) Chimbiri, and Ms (Netsai) Marova,” he said.
“We remain clear that the government of Zimbabwe must meet its international and domestic obligations by respecting the rule of law, safeguarding human rights, and committing to genuine political and economic reforms for the benefit of all Zimbabweans.”
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa could not immediately comment on the matter yesterday and asked NewsDay to forward questions to her in writing.
“I am busy at the moment and I cannot respond now, but send the questions on WhatsApp and I will definitely respond,” she said.
Zanu-PF has insisted that there are no human rights violations in the country, and the party has accused opposition elements of spreading falsehoods to their “Western handlers”.
While the West has been consistent with its condemnation of Zimbabwe for human rights abuses, government officials insist on laws to stop locals from “unholy alliances” with them for “regime change” purposes.
Last week, former British Foreign minister Lord Peter Hain wrote to British Foreign secretary Dominic Raab demanding to know what the UK government was doing to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
“In July last year since the brutal abduction, torture and harassment of Zimbabwean Member of Parliament Joanah Mamombe and two of her female colleagues, I asked for sanctions against key Zimbabwe government ministers and officials to be put in place.
“The case was also taken up by the British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe (Melanie Robinson) and I was assured that everything possible was being done to express HMG’s abhorrence at the chain of events,” the letter read in part.
After expressing concerns over circumstances surrounding Mamombe and other activists’ arrest, Hain asked: “May I ask what steps HMG is taking to hold the Zimbabwean government accountable for these gross violations of human rights?”
Mamombe and Chimbiri have now clocked more than 56 days in prison after they were denied bail over an offence of allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations.
MDC Alliance leaders, including party vice-presidents Tendai Biti and Lynette Karenyi and others, are also on trial for allegedly contravening COVID-19 regulations, which political analysts view as weaponisation of the law against the opposition as Zanu-PF officials have held rallies without being charged.