Cablegate: Supporting Human Rights and Democracy in Zimbabwe

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) STATE 11875 (B) 03 STATE 333935 (C) 03



1. (U) Since its disputed victory in Zimbabwe's 2002
parliamentary and presidential elections, the ruling ZANU-PF
party has pursued a concerted campaign to shrink individual
liberties and democratic space in this constitutional
republic. The government's human rights record remained
poor, although political violence declined in 2003 compared
to the previous year. The executive branch continued to
aggrandize its power at the expense of the judiciary and the
unicameral parliament, and stepped up efforts to hamstring a
weakening independent media. Legislative activity during the
year scaled back due process protections, and retroactively
overrode court judgments and legalized past illegal acts of
the government. Repressive laws were exercised selectively
to constrain the activities of the government's critics.
Ruling party supporters continued to harass and to intimidate
critics with relative impunity. The government closed the
country's only independent daily newspaper for four months
and is pursuing court action to close it down permanently.
The executive branch frequently ignored court orders and
sought to intimidate sitting judges in politically sensitive
cases. Urban and rural council and parliamentary
by-elections during 2003 were marred by violence and other
irregularities. The National Youth Service program was
implicated in a host of human right abuses, generally
associated with suppressing political opponents of the
government. The nation's highly polarized and stalemated
political climate was compounded by a mutually reinforcing
economic implosion that touched every sector of society.

2. (U) Complicating our efforts to address Zimbabwe's
deteriorating political situation is the government's growing
apparent xenophobia toward the west. A liberation party that
has ruled the country since independence, ZANU-PF has had
difficulty sustaining its popularity in recent years. Its
political insecurity is compounded by the disastrous failures
of its economic policies, including the corrupt and often
violent implementation of a land reform program. Central to
the ruling party's political strategy is its portrayal of
Zimbabwe as under seige by "neocolonial" forces intent on
undoing land reform and robbing the country of its
sovereignty. The government employs the dominant state media
relentlessly to paint political opponents and critics as
lawless agents of a racist conspiracy headed by Great Britain
and the United States. Actions and statements of the U.S.
Government are consistently distorted or fabricated to
substantiate conspiracy theories and ostensibly to justify a
stronger hand against regime critics. In this environment,
many ruling party and government officials avoid association
with U.S. officials, and Embassy access to the Government of
Zimbabwe is limited.

3. (SBU) Underpinning the U.S. Goverment's human rights
strategy with Zimbabwe is a recognition that resolution of
the nation's political crisis is a necessary precondition for
addressing the country's myriad problems, including its human
rights situation. Facilitating such a resolution is a
central U.S. priority. It was in this vein that President
Bush consulted with President Mbeki in support of steps to
resolve the crisis. In addition to ongoing U.S. consultation
with the South African Government on Zimbabwe, U.S. diplomats
have engaged other governments with potential influence in
Zimbabwe to coordinate mutually supportive approaches.

4. (U) Against this backdrop, U.S. officials routinely
spotlight publicly and when possible highlight privately the
need for the government to improve the environment for free
and fair elections and to strengthen rule of law.
Politically motivated violence, flaws in the electoral
process, concerns over judicial independence, limits on
freedom of association, and abridgement of free speech were
among many themes pursued by U.S. officials on Zimbabwe.
Official travel and financial restrictions were maintained
against key government officials and members of the ruling
party to signal official disapproval of their policies and to
press for change. Statements of U.S. officials regularly
received prominent play in the independent press, including
the country's most widely circulated newspaper. Foremost
among these was a June op-ed piece by Secretary Powell on the
eve of the President's visit to the region and a December
interview of the Ambassador. The Embassy generally assured
wide dissemination among Zimbabwe's media, legal fraternity,
civil society, academics, and government and party officials
of human rights-related reports by the State Department,
NGOs, and international organizations. Prominent coverage of
human rights themes at embassy public affairs resource
centers (approximately 100,000 visited the one in Harare, for
example) and the Zimbabwe-specific programs of the Voice of
America influenced opinions inside Zimbabwe and throughout
the region.

5. (SBU) To document Zimbabwe's human rights situation,
USAID funded a well-respected human rights organization that
comprehensively gathered and disseminated information on
cases of alleged abuses. In addition, USAID-funded programs
assisted victims of political violence, including
documentation of atrocities, and supported centers for
victims of torture and political violence in urban centers
throughout the country. The Democracy and Human Rights Fund
(DHRF) and USAID further enhanced provision of legal services
to victims of political crimes. U.S. diplomats also
personally interviewed victims of political violence and
maintained a visible presence at politically significant
events, including party rallies and election activities. To
bolster domestic election observation capabilities, USAID
facilitated an independent local election observation NGO on
capacity building and deployment costs. The Department
sponsored three Zimbabweans for human rights-related
Interntional Vistors Programs (IVPs) last year, and the
Embassy's resource center helped local human rights
organizations access human rights material on the internet as
a means to develop their capacity and effectiveness.

6. (SBU) To fortify the integrity of democratic pluralism in
Zimbabwe, USAID provided a range of assistance to strengthen
legislative committees, one of the few venues where civil
political discourse between the ruling and opposition parties
still occurs openly. In addition, USAID funded training for
organizational and leadership development, internal and
external communications, and financial management within
selected democratically oriented organizations. USAID
cultivated grassroots democratic capabilities by bolstering
accountability mechanisms among democratically elected
municipal officials and facilitating their contact with
international counterparts. To help build a foundation for
active citizen participation in political life, USAID has
funded a number of civil society organizations, providing
them with training and technical assistance to help them
advocate to the parliament on issues of national
significance. USAID provides similar assistance to a number
of grassroots organizations that work with municipal
authorities. DHRF funds went to support the establishment of
an Institute of Peace, Leadership, and Governance at Africa
University, and USAID/ASHA funded the infrastructure
construction costs for the Institute. The Department slated
eight Zimbabweans last year to attend IVPs on
governance-related themes.

7. (SBU) To bolster access by Zimbabweans to balanced
information, ESF funds supported Voice of America broadcasts
to Zimbabwe five times a week. The program featured
interviews by Zimbabwean announcers with U.S. policymakers
and Zimbabwean opinion makers on a range of key political,
economic and cultural topics. The program is the only
broadcast of its kind on both AM and short wave, that targets
Zimbabweans who have limited access to independent media.
Shortwave Radio Africa, partially funded by USAID, also
provides Zimbabweans with alternative sources of news about
their country. USAID has funded activities to fortify the
capacity of Zimbabwe's strained independent press, and public
diplomacy efforts have devoted particular priority to
concerns about freedom of press. In addition, USAID has
funded Business Operating Centers that, among other services,
will allow ordinary Zimbabweans to access independent media
sources via the Internet. USAID also has funded capacity
building and training for a public opinion institute to
conduct polls and gauge public opinion on topical issues,
including governance, and to hold public seminars that review
findings and inform policy makers. The Department
facilitated participation by two prominent Zimbabwean
journalists in a slate of activities in the United States
under a Voluntary Visitors Program.
8. (SBU) In supporting religious freedom, the Embassy has
collaborated closely with clerics involved in pressing for
resolution of Zimbabwe's political crisis. Through public
and private statements and dissemination of relevant public
documents such as the Department's Human Rights Report, we
have underscored official concern about the government's
arrest and intimidation of religious figures who criticize
the government.

9. (U) Advancing women's issues, DHRF funds went to help the
Zimbabwe Women Lawyers' Association print a civic awareness
manual to educate rural women on their voting and other civic
rights, and for workshops to present the manual. DHRF funds
also enabled a parliamentary women's caucus to hold workshops
and build capacity among women members of parliament. The
Department sponsored a Zimbabwean activist for an
International Vistors Program on "Women as Political and
Economic Leaders". The Embassy also sponsored a workshop on
domestic violence for law enforcement officials and
interested civic society representatives.

10. (SBU) Supporting workers rights through an American
trade union organization, USAID has funded a program of the
Solidarity Center to assist trade unions in Zimbabwe to
become more accountable and responsive to their memberships
and more effective at representing the interests of their
constituents. Funds were used to provide professional
economic and legal advice, to support new offices, to
facilitate staff travel to membership chapters in the field,
and for training in economic literacy and organizational
development. On several occasions, the Embassy advocated to
the government on behalf of the American organization
representative in Harare in connection with difficulties he
had in maintaining his legal residency. Finally, the
Department sponsored a visiting expert who spoke to wide
Zimbabwean audiences on alternative conflict resolution
mechanisms, particularly in the context of labor relations.

11. (U) The Embassy has promoted interest in and scrutiny of
trafficking-related issues among civil society and NGOS
generally concerned with human rights in Zimbabwe. We have
projected official concern about trafficking issues in
Zimbabwe through public and private statements and
dissemination of public documents such as the Department's
Trafficking in Persons Report.

12. (SBU) As for evaluating the success of our human rights
strategy in Zimbabwe, we still have a long row to hoe.
Again, restoration of an acceptable human rights regime here
will hinge largely on the ability of Zimbabwean players
themselves first to resolve their political stalemate and of
the Government of Zimbabwe to subject itself to the will of
the Zimbabwean people and the rule of law. Our comprehensive
strategy is necessarily long term -- geared first to foster
resolution of a political crisis while sustaining crucial
democratic institutions through parlous times. In the longer
run, those democratic institutions we help to sustain -- free
press, independent judiciary, civil society, equitable
electoral process -- must serve as the foundation of a
healthy polity that now seems so distant.

(FY-03 only, not including funds that carried over from
FY-02) --

DA-funded activities:

NGO advocacy - 620,000
Local governance - 486,000
Victims of Torture - 461,000
Victims of Conflict - 977,000

ESF-funded activities:

Trade unions - 300,000
Public Information/VOA - 1,500,000

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