The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) is gravely concerned by the lack of clarity regarding acknowledgement or feedback on evidence submitted before the Commission of Inquiry and the absence of mechanisms to ensure the safety of witnesses.
The key issue of concern is the lack of transparency on procedures of handling the evidence submitted to the Commission. There was no acknowledgment or feedback received from the Commission of submissions filed by the Forum and its members who made individual submissions. These are Veritas, Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Peace Project. The Submissions were filed via email and hand delivered to the Commission Secretariat at the Commission’s offices at Cresta Lodge Hotel. The Commission has announced that it concluded the hearings yesterday November 27 and it is now consolidating the information received, yet we have no way of establishing whether our submissions have reached the Commission.
The second issue of concern is the failure by the Commission to ensure witness protection. The Forum reiterates that the Commission has an obligation to safeguard the security and protection of witnesses, victims and anyone who would have interacted with it during its work. The Forum developed a set of principles for witness protection that were shared with the Commission of Inquiry following its establishment. The principles emphasized the need for the Commission to prioritise the security of the victims, witnesses and human rights defenders that testify or provide evidence to the Commission.
Despite this, the Forum note with concern the victimisation and harassment of witnesses who either testified or were planning to testify before the Commission. Specifically: Makomborero Haruzivishe who was attacked by unknown assailants a few days after he testified on 19 October 2018 during the first round of testimonies in Harare. He was attacked on 5 November 2018; the arbitrary arrest and detention of the Mthakazi activists, Mayo Ncube, Welcome Moyo, Marshal Sibanda and Wisdom Mkwananzi in Bulawayo on the 26th of October for testifying before the Commission; and the abduction of Retired Lieutenant Elliot Piki by unknown assailants on 25 November 2018 in Harare. Retired Lieutenant Elliot Piki was due to testify before the Commission of Inquiry on 26 November 2018. It is therefore apparent that the Commission has done very little, if anything at all, to ensure witness protection.
Fears around Interference with Evidence by the secretariat
The Forum is concerned that there appears to be interference with evidence presented by our members to the Commission.
On the 5th of October 2018, the Forum’s Chairperson Ms Jestina Mukoko wrote to the Commission giving it evidence on the events of the 1st of August 2018. In the letter, she promised to furnish further evidence to the Commissioners and requested that she be called to testify before the Commission.
On the 12th of October, the Forum’s Ms Mukoko wrote again and attached a bundle of evidence which included affidavits of evidence of 18 victims and witnesses to the shootings as well as evidence of the relatives of the deceased. The evidence also contained post-mortem reports of the deceased clearly showing that they died of gunshots wounds. In the cover letter accompanying this evidence, the Forum’s Chairperson once again offered herself to appear before the Commission and give oral evidence as well as to answer any questions regarding this evidence. Neither was she nor 15 of the witnesses whose evidence was placed before the Commission called to testify.
On the 26th of November 2018, the Forum submitted a video evidence of the shooting together with the affidavits which have previously been supplied to the Commission and yet again requested that its chairperson be called upon to give evidence before this Commission. Again there was no acknowledgment of the information raising fears that the Commission may not be in possession of all this evidence. Other members of the Forum have also encountered similar problems which calls into focus the credibility of the Secretariat of the Commission and their possible interference with evidence.
The Commission concluded public hearings on November 27, 2018 in Harare. Commission spokesperson John Masuku stated that the Commission would begin analysing and preparing the report, and skeletal portions of the report were already drafted. However, the Commission’s stance to produce a report with at least 15 eye witnesses and survivors of the shootings not having being given the opportunity to share their experiences, or lack of clarity on whether the evidence submitted was received is extremely concerning. We are most concerned that this evidence, which contained sensitive affidavits by victims, may end up in the wrong hands and may be used to target the victims. This could be the reason why witnesses are now being abducted before they appear before the Commission.
The Abductions and Arrests: Witnesses at Risk
The Forum is concerned by the deafening silence of the commission around safety and security of the witnesses appearing before it. We note with particular concern the fact that the abduction of Retired Lieutenant Piki comes after several violations against other witnesses that appeared before the Commission. Makomborero Haruzivishe was attacked by unknown assailants a few days after he testified on 19 October 2018 during the first round of testimonies in Harare. He was attacked on 5 November 2018. On 1 November 2018, the Forum issued a statement condemning the arrest and detention of Mthakazi activists, who were arrested while testifying before the Commission. The Commission has not said a word on these developments. Neither has it put in place any measures for the protection of witnesses. This is deeply regrettable for the Commission which is chaired by former President of South Africa Kgalena Motlanthe, whose credibility is supposed to be beyond question.
The Next Steps
The Forum calls upon the Chairperson of the Commission, former President of South Africa Kgalema Montlanthe to investigate into these issues. The lack of clarity on the procedures for handling of evidence is an issue that goes to the heart of the investigation. It raises fears around manipulation of the evidence by the state, a step which we are not prepared to accept.
The Forum insists that the Chairperson of the Commission has been entrusted with this process and therefore has an obligation to make sure that witnesses are protected. The Commission must be seized with the case of the disappearance of Retired Lieutenant Elliot Piki. He was scheduled to testify before the Commission initially on November 26, 2018 and the Commission has the obligation to ensure his protection.
The Forum calls upon the Chairperson of the Commission Mr. Kgalema Monthlante to take measures to ensure that the evidence submitted has been given due consideration and that there is feedback to the stakeholders who made such submissions and that he personally acknowledge that the information has been received and that it will be considered.
The Forum wishes to reiterate that it represents many of the victims of the August 1 shootings. It has the mandate granted by the victims as stated in the evidence and accompanying affidavits. In that regards, the Forum has the right to be heard by the Commission and for its submissions to be considered.
The Commission has an obligation to perform its functions credibly and bring closure to the 1st of August 2018 violence. Zimbabweans are watching and the victims and their families deserve a credible process.