Zimbabwe: Army commander threatens election integrity

Zimbabwe: Army commander threatens election integrity

Johannesburg — Participation of security forces in partisan politics

Zimbabwe’s army commander has openly stated that the country’s security forces intend to play a partisan political role, threatening future elections and those who participate in them, Human Rights Watch said today.

On 29 June 2024, Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant General Anselem Sanyatwe said that people would march to polling stations “whether they like it or not” and that the ruling party, ZANU-PF, would “rule forever”. Since the August 2023 general election, in which ZANU-PF failed to secure an outright majority in parliament, the country has witnessed several constituency-based by-elections in which opposition members were removed from office in a rare move. The removals were seen as an attempt to tip the balance of power in favour of ZANU-PF.

“The Zimbabwean military commander’s open support for the ruling party not only jeopardizes the fairness of the election, but opens the door to abuses by security forces against voters, the opposition, and civil society organizations,” said Allan Ngari, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabwean security forces should comply with the country’s laws and regulations that respect its international human rights obligations to ensure that the elections are free and fair.”

For decades, Zimbabwe’s military and other state security forces have interfered in the country’s political and electoral affairs, violating citizens’ civil and political rights. Zimbabwe’s Constitution provides that no member of the security services, in the exercise of his or her functions, may act in a partisan manner, promote the interests of any political party, or cause or violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of anyone. However, senior members of the security forces have consistently ignored these provisions with impunity.

The government should take urgent steps to end the military’s involvement in partisan politics, including by disciplining or prosecuting military officers who violate laws and regulations that prohibit security forces from directly supporting any political party.

Zimbabwe has a history of elections that fall far short of international and regional standards, characterised by the involvement of the military in deeply flawed electoral processes. The government has failed to correct some of the flaws in the August 2023 elections that were documented by observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Electoral periods in Zimbabwe, especially in 1985, 1990, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008, were characterized by widespread political violence, committed mainly by ZANU-PF, its allies and government security agencies, including sections of the military.

These problems were particularly evident during the 2008 elections, when the military was credibly implicated in numerous systematic abuses that led to the killing of up to 200 people, the beating and torture of 5,000 more, and the displacement of 36,000.

The 2017 coup against President Robert Mugabe further entrenched the military’s partisanship with the ruling party and its interference in civilian affairs. Since the coup, the military leadership and some sections of the military have taken highly visible measures that negatively affect the political environment.

Recent statements by Lieutenant General Sanyatwe that threaten the holding of free, fair, and credible elections raise the urgent need for reforms to ensure that state security forces do not threaten future democratic elections and the country’s electoral affairs, Human Rights Watch said.

Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a party, provides that every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without discrimination on the grounds of political opinion or other unreasonable restrictions, “to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections held by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot ensuring the free expression of the will of the voters.”

SADC heads of state, who will meet in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on 17 August for their 44th summit, should press the Zimbabwean government to guarantee the political neutrality of its security forces and non-interference in the country’s civil and electoral affairs.