Source: Gordon Johnson (Pixabay)

Human rights are integral for every single individual in the world irrespective of race, gender and age. These rights are based on shared values such as equality, respect and the protection of human ethical norms. Human rights in Africa, however, have been a contentious discourse when assessing the events such as; colonialism, the Rwandan genocide and the South African Apartheid regime just to mention a few. With this history in mind, human rights in Africa have been violated to the extent that African organisations have been established to safeguard citizens of member states from potential repetition of human rights violations. These organisations include the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Communities (SADC). 

The AU and SADC have designated organs to address conflict and human rights violations respectively. An organ such as the Peace and Security Council (PSC) which is the decision-making body of the AU is for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. It is set to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crises in Africa. Additionally, SADC developed the Mutual Defense Pact (MDP) which provides a legal framework set to enhance collaborative defense cooperation to deal with issues ranging from aggression of a member state to cooperation in the field of joint training and information sharing. The MDP focuses on issues of conflict resolution, military preparation, collective self-defense and self-action, destabilising factors and the settlement of disputes. 

These organs were put in place to guarantee the realisation and protection of human rights at all costs. They have, however, failed in many African countries to realise what they were set out to do. This article is aimed at evaluating the role of these organisations in addressing the consistent violation of human rights in Zimbabwe. Although arguments of state sovereignty have been used against intervention, it is important to note the principle of sovereignty does not supersede the need to guarantee human rights.  At their most fundamental levels, the AU and SADC were established to serve the people of Africa and not the interests of member states. This article therefore suggests that the inaction of the AU and SADC is a matter of political will, which originates from heads of states that occupy positions in these organisations with unconscious biases and impartiality.

Article 4(h) of the constitutive act of the AU states that the AU has the power to intervene in a Member State if there is war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity and 4(j) states that member states have the right to request intervention from the Union to restore peace. Moreover, SADC states that intervention is possible in accordance to the Protocol on Politics, Defense and Security cooperation which allows for regional intervention in the case of intrastate conflict, but only for purposes of mediation not military assistance. While these protocols are in place, there is still a lack of implementation in matters which need intervention. This shows that the legal writing is not the issue but rather implementation. This is the case with the citizens of Zimbabwe who have been exposed to violations of their human rights for decades. 

Zimbabwe has a long history of human rights violations this started with the genocide of Ndebele’s from 1983 to 1987. It was then followed by the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that Zimbabwe participated in for economic gain. This led to economic downturn which together with tribalism running rife and a decaying economy the gross violations of human rights continued through 1997-2000, with the implementation of land reform policies through violent land grabs that resulted in farm murders. Additionally, the violation of human rights heightened in 2002 and 2008 with state endorsing election violence which sought to intimidate people to vote for ZANU-PF and to stifle the opposition thus, eroding their constitutional democracy. In all the above mentioned, the AU and SADC failed to take or took little action to intervene for the people of Zimbabwe. 

After former President Robert Mugabe was removed from power in November 2017 and the instatement of President Emmerson Mnangagwa there was hope that Zimbabwe would be on a new path. His administration, however, is only an intensified continuation of Robert Mugabe’s “legacy” particularly with the recent anti-corruption protests. With the suppression of journalists, citizens and opposition leaders, the state under Mnangagwa has weaponised the rule of law against the people by arresting and torturing those with dissenting views. Such a violation is condemned in the African Charter for Human Rights, in particular Article 6 and Article 14 which Zimbabwe signed and ratified. The signature and ratification of member states is an acknowledgement of consequences for contraventions. The AU and SADC have remained silent and have not sought any intervention as yet. This is the continuation of their trend of inaction.

It is evident that President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaposa, the chairperson of the AU and President Hage Geingob of Namibia as chairperson of SADC have remained silent and have not exhibited any plans to intervene. Even with states, such as the US, sanctioning President Mnangagwa and businesses with ties to alleged corruption in light of this, the AU and SADC is still quiet and absent in speaking up and taking action. These leaders are protecting state security, fellow elites and sovereignty rather than fulfilling the objectives of the organisations which are promoting human rights and freedoms for citizens in Africa. The protection of sovereignty is seen by how ineffective these organisations have been when it comes to regional peacekeeping. The AU and SADC allow leaders to have too much room for unconscious biases and impartiality based on personal and national interests. This dominates peacekeeping as their laws provide way for actions but, leaders are not putting these laws in place. This essentially leads to inaction which is bound to affect the citizens. 

The inaction of the AU and SADC is a contributing factor to the failing of states in Africa. In trying to uphold the principle of sovereignty they are compromising the safety and standard of living of Africans which is contrary to the ethos of these organisations. The AU and SADC need to break their silence and take the necessary steps to intervene in Zimbabwe’s matter, as it is what they are set out to do and is what the citizens need. They need to send a message to the Zimbabwean government that they cannot go against these organs without any consequences.

Sinazo Zulu is 20 years old and matriculated at Sutherland High School in Pretoria. She is currently studying the degree BAdmin Public Management and International Relations at the University of Pretoria. She plans to further her studies in International Relations.  

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