UN urges peaceful elections, warns against intimidation in Zimbabwe
Ahead of the July 30 poll, the first since former President Robert Mugabe resigned under pressure in November 2017 after 37 years in power, OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell said there were increasing reports of voter intimidation and coercion linked to the ruling ZANU-PF party.
The OHCHR said it was appealing to Zimbabwe’s Government, political parties and other institutions following concern over Zimbabwe’s alleged human rights violations and level of electoral violence in the past.
The international community imposed sanctions on the country in the early 2000s, following reports of election-rigging and suppression of the opposition.
Ms Throssell said that UN staff members were not in a position to verify the reports, which had nonetheless surfaced in a context of a “widening of the democratic space” in the country.
“We note the signing of the peace pledge by the political parties on 26 June, under the auspices of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
“We welcome their commitment to promote a climate of peace and tolerance, accept the results of the elections or challenge the results through the due process of law,” she said.
The frontrunners in the election are President Emmerson Mnangagwa from the ruling ZANU-PF party and his opponent, Nelson Chamisa, head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The OHCHR spokesperson noted a “cautious optimism” surrounding the elections amid political rallies and peaceful demonstrations in the capital, Harare, adding it is to be welcomed that international human rights organisations and national rights monitors are present, too.
“The run-up to elections previously in Zimbabwe was very different, very much marred by violence. From what we have been seeing, what we have been monitoring, there has not been that scale of violence.
“In fact, civil society has spoken to express this cautious optimism. It’s far from perfect, but there are encouraging signs,” Ms Throssell said.
In spite of these positive developments, several rural areas – Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Midlands and Manicaland Province – have been linked to “an increasing number of reports” of harassment and coercion of voters,” Ms Throssell cautioned.
She said reports of intimidation linked to ZANU-PF and traditional leaders who support the ruling party have been made by civil society organisations and cannot be verified by OHCHR.
The issue of verbal attacks against women has also been a feature of the election campaign, taking place largely on social media and in local languages, she added.
“From what I understand from information I’ve been given, there’s about 15 per cent of the candidates that are women.
“Now the kind of disparaging language is really not going to come of any surprise to you – it’s targeting them on the basis of them being women.
“Calling them bra-burning feminists, calling them, sort of, substandard candidates, attacking them personally,” the OHCHR spokesperson said.