Government policies in Zimbabwe are worsening the country’s economic crisis, causing immense hardship to those less well-off, and crushing the human rights of those who dare complain, a group of UN experts* has warned.
“We are gravely concerned that, as the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates, the Government is pushing people further into poverty,” the experts said.
“We are not aware of any Government measures to provide even minimal safety nets for those who are already living on an economic cliff-edge and who will suffer the most from these regressive policies.
“The impact of economic reforms on human rights must be assessed against international norms and standards, in line with the Guiding Principles, on human rights impact assessments of economic reforms” they said.
The Government of Zimbabwe has expressed its intention to cut its fiscal deficit by half in 2019, in response to a crisis fuelled by decades of poor economic governance. However, there are serious concerns about how the burdens of austerity will be shared.
While the elite are largely protected from financial harm, those living in or near poverty are bearing the brunt of major price rises, increasingly tight monetary policies, and regressive tax measures announced in the latest budget.
On 12 January 2019, Zimbabwe’s President announced a massive increase in the cost of fuel. Petrol prices more than doubled, and are now the most expensive in the world. Food prices and fares for public transport have since doubled.
Leading human rights organisations have warned of “an increasing risk of a humanitarian crisis”. Zimbabwe ranks 107th out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index, with 72 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. The World Food Program also estimates that more than 2.4 million people will face food insecurity in 2019. Access to basic water and sanitation services has declined over the last 15 years, with more than 60% of the population lacking access to sanitation services by 2015.
Protests against the fuel price increases have been met with a crackdown by the National Army and police, described as “excessive” and “disproportionate” by international observers. The experts have received allegations that 17 people have been killed, approximately 1,000 people arrested, with some beaten and assaulted in custody, and others subjected to gender-based violence, rape and abductions.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has also reported systematic torture and indiscriminate, severe beatings, including of children.
“Credible reports of a disproportionate crackdown on protesters expressing legitimate concerns indicate the Government is shutting down debate and doubling down on its troubling policies,” the UN experts said.
As a State Party to the International Human Rights Covenants, Zimbabwe has pledged to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. In relation to the rights to work, social security, an adequate standard of living, education and health, the Government has a legal obligation to mobilize the maximum of its available resources and to protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of its citizens.
(*) The UN experts: Mr. Philip Alston (Australia), Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia), Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences;. Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Republic of Korea), Chair-Rapporteur, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms Agnès Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. David Kaye (USA),Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina), Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights; Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil), Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.