Three UN independent human rights experts on Wednesday urged [press release] the government of Zimbabwe [BBC backgrounder] to respect international human rights including privacy and freedom of association, in light of growing hostility toward civil society organizations. In the weeks leading up to the country's March 16 constitutional referendum [JURIST report], with a subsequent election to take place in July, "human rights experts have received increasing numbers of reports about acts of intimidation and harassment, physical violence and arrests against civil society actors, mostly working on human rights issues." During the many police searches, important documents and files have reportedly been seized from organizations. "With the referendum less than two weeks away, human rights defenders who promote participation have a critical role to play," said Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya [CV, PDF]. "They must be protected by the Government and attempts to stifle criticism must end."
Zimbabwe has previously been criticized for its failure to ensure compliance with international human rights standards. Last month Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the unity government, established in 2009 after the 2008 elections resulted in violence, failed to take the necessary steps [JURIST report] to ensure "credible, free and fair elections." In November the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) [FIDH backgrounder] reported that human rights defenders in Zimbabwe continue to be harassed [JURIST report]. Last March various human rights groups urged South African courts to prosecute Zimbabwe for violations including torture and forced labor [JURIST reports] of civilian workers in illegal mining camps. In June 2009 Amnesty International [advocacy website] reported that Zimbabwe was still experiencing serious human rights violations [JURIST report], such as the arrest and detention of human rights activists, and needed to confront issues that led to such problems.