On Tuesday, this blog highlighted a new report which rolled off the presses yesterday at Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled "You will be thoroughly beaten" about the Government of ZImbabwe's increasingly repressive campaign against civil society, human rights campaigners, and ordinary Zimbaweans trying to survive during an economic cataclysm. On Monday, we blogged on Human RIghts Watch's bestowing of its highest honor on Arnold Tsunga, executive director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human RIghts (ZLHR).
Arnold Tsunga is in New York where he will receive the HRW award tonight. He also has a powerful Op-Ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal, entitled, "Yes, you will be thoroughly beaten" (subscription required). Tsunga states that:
"A tsunami has rolled through Zimbabwe, different from the tidal waves that hit Asia in 2004. Ours came last year, in the form of bulldozers and soldiers. Vibrant towns were reduced to flat and desolate grounds. More than 700,000 people lost their homes and livelihood. Why? President Robert Mugabe thought that the poor people who lived in these urban areas represented a political threat. He feared that the citizens might mobilize against him. So he launched a pre-emptive strike against those already suffering under his policies. He called it "Operation Murambatsvina," literally "Operation Clear the Filth" -- the "filth" being hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean men, women and children who were internally displaced, many of whom continue to live without access to humanitarian assistance today."
Tsunga reads the bill of particulars of the Mugabe regime's assault against the democratic opposition:
In the past six years, the government of Zimbabwe has increasingly turned to repressive and often violent means to suppress criticism from the opposition and civil society. Opposition political parties have been stifled. Police and other state-sponsored agents routinely intimidate, attack and torture government critics, including members of civil-society organizations, human-rights lawyers, journalists and trade unionists. At the same time, the police use repressive laws to silence critical voices in the remnants of civil society. Americans may take for granted the essential freedoms of speech and assembly. But in Zimbabwe, printing presses have been bombed and newspapers have been closed for criticizing Mr. Mugabe.
He describes the personal cost that human rights and pro-democracy workers pay for their opposition in Zimbabwe and also explains why he, as a lawyer, still bothers to pursue actions against the government in the country's court system:
After working for many years as a commercial lawyer in Mutare, I was abducted, tortured and threatened for simply defending individuals who stood in the way of Mr. Mugabe. My co-workers and I have been arrested and dragged to the courts for trying to document and create an official record of government abuses. Some people ask me why I bother using the legal system when the deck is so stacked against us. I answer that there is still a semblance of a court system and some brave judges who will uphold the law. But they are operating in straitjackets and desperately need support to continue doing the right thing.
Tsunga also takes advantage of his presence on U.S. soil to call on the American government to increase its assistance to Zimbabwe's pro-democracy community as well as its general humanitarian assistance:
Human-rights defenders in Zimbabwe face enormous risks as they fight for reparations and resettlement of the hundreds of thousands made homeless by Mr. Mugabe's evictions. The U.S. can support these activists through the provision of technical assistance and other forms of targeted support. Greater humanitarian assistance is also required for the victims of the evictions who today remain in desperate need of housing, food and other forms of assistance.
Bravo, Arnold Tsunga! The HRW award is a well deserved honor to a courageous pugilist for human rights in Zimbabwe.