Society problems

Killing democracy by silencing civil society -…

In the fury over the Zimbabwean government’s determination to adopt the Private Voluntary Organizations Amendment Bill in law and its attack on civil liberties, the motivation behind this attempted rule by The law seems to have been forgotten. The real issue is the elections due to take place in 2023 and a pre-emptive attempt to limit civil society reporting on the intimidation and violence that accompanies the polls in Zimbabwe – as well as a demonstration of the overwhelming evidence that this is made by the government itself and its members. of the ruling Zanu-PF.

Every election since 2000 has been accompanied by violence and intimidation. At times, as in 2000, 2002 and 2008, the violence is extreme, even leading the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to criticize the process. Other elections have been marked by less overt violence, but by numerous complaints of intimidation and manipulation, which can be referred to as “anticipatory” rigging.

Police officers keep an eye on Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters outside the party’s headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 20, 2019. (Credit: EPA-EFE/Aaron Ufumeli)

The 2023 elections will be the most complex and bitter since 2000, and it is clear that they offer the last chance for Zanu-PF and the government of Zimbabwe to reverse the coup. A contested election will seriously undermine any prospect of international re-engagement, and this is where civil society poses a major threat through its ability to document electoral irregularities, not just violence and intimidation.

Thus, the strategic motivation behind the PVO bill is to muzzle civil society under the simple guise of addressing the problem of money laundering and illicit financial flows to support terrorism. The PVO Bill purports to address the problem of civil society organizations that fund terrorism or terrorist groups and purports to be an attempt to comply with the recommendations of the Mutual Evaluation Reports (MER) of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards.

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Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) drag an injured protester during clashes with people who took part in the peace march organized by the Alliance for Democratic Change (MDC) in Harare, Zimbabwe on 16 August 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

Here, we unpack how the government of Zimbabwe manipulated the process of complying with FAFT’s “Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing” requirements in order to solve a political issue over the elections.

Since Zimbabwe’s first assessment by ESAAMLG in 2007, one of the areas of compliance under the FAFT has been the establishment of mechanisms to prevent NGOs from providing illicit financial support to terrorist groups. However, it was agreed between the Government of Zimbabwe and ESAAMLG that this was not a serious problem in Zimbabwe. As stated in the 2007 MER, “the authorities are not aware of the existence of terrorist financing activities in Zimbabwe”. In fact, the government of Zimbabwe has agreed that the main issues related to illicit financial flows are:

  • Drug traffic;
  • Illegal trade and smuggling of precious minerals, metals and stones;
  • Parallel market activities involving foreign currencies and commodities by individuals and companies;
  • Corruption, particularly practices in the fuel industry involving private and public institutions;
  • Misrepresentation of the quality, nature and value of exports; and
  • Armed robbery and theft of motor vehicles and re-registration of stolen vehicles.

These are all issues even today in 2022. They have been detailed in reports on the extent of corruption in Zimbabwe and the involvement of senior government officials (see here, here and here): NGOs are never mentioned.

Beyond this, there have been no cases of NGOs in Zimbabwe being found engaging in money laundering or terrorist financing.

Nevertheless, any serious attempt to combat the financing of terrorism must, within the framework of the FATF, provide for a mechanism to put a stop to it and must take into account the role of the possible involvement of NGOs. This is what the Zimbabwean government has promised to do, and its first attempt to comply has been deemed insufficient.

It was required to conduct an assessment of high-risk non-profit organizations (NPOs). The comment of ESAAMLG Report 2019, entitled Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing Measures. Zimbabwe. Reassessment of technical conformity, is instructive:

Zimbabwe conducted a risk assessment of the NPO sector in the country. Based on the assessment, the country identified six NPOs as high risk. The six NPOs funded religious activities, orphans and vulnerable children with funds from countries perceived by the country as high risk TF jurisdictions. However, the assessment is not comprehensive enough to identify the subset of organizations falling under the FATF definition of NPOs and the authorities have not demonstrated that they have considered all sources of information from supervisors, the FIU, tax authorities, intelligence, donor organizations or the law. law enforcement, to identify the types of NPOs based on their activities or characteristics, which are likely to be at risk of TF abuse. The country also did not indicate whether it had begun a periodic reassessment of the sector by reviewing new information on the sector’s potential vulnerabilities to terrorist activities to ensure the effective implementation of measures. Zimbabwe is currently reviewing the adequacy of the Private and Voluntary Organizations Act which governs the registration and operation of NPOs. The proposed changes are currently going through a parliamentary process.

Thus, the PVO bill enters the picture, and it is instructive that the time has come after the flawed elections of 2018 and the growing problems faced by the government of the “new dispensation” and the coup of 2017, including the failure of the international re-engagement exercise. .

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The issue which should be addressed, and which is very clear in all the 2007 MERS, all nine of them, is that the Government of Zimbabwe must first undertake a risk assessment of the NGO sector and identify areas of activity of the NGOs which are the main candidates for funding. terrorism and terrorist organizations. This must precede the establishment of any legislation or regulations to control such a problem. There is no evidence that the government did this.

It is also necessary within the framework of the FAFT that this process be inclusive and involve civil society. There is no evidence that the government did either.

Given all of this, it is immediately apparent that the inclusion of sections in the PVO bill that refer to support for political parties is certainly what is not included in the definitions of illicit finance. No democratic country would claim that supporting a political party is terrorism, but, of course, many countries do just that.

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Members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) block the road to contain the planned peace march by the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance in Harare, Zimbabwe on August 16, 2019. (Photo: EPA- EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

Hiding the ban on political support (which is not defined in the bill) under the pretext of preventing the financing of terrorism, yet that is what this government does, and almost every day, the government and its doors -speech accuse opposition political parties and civil society of “regime change”, and even outright accuse both sectors of being terrorists.

It subverts the whole democratic process when elections that aim to change a regime – changing the elected “regime” to run the government and the state, are redefined as overthrowing a government and the state. That’s what elections are, regime change processes.

Section 3 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which sets out the founding values ​​and principles, states that one of the principles of good governance that binds the state includes a democratic multi-party political system and an electoral system based on universal adult suffrage and equal votes, elections free, fair and regular and adequate representation of the electorate. Other principles set out in Section 3 include the orderly transfer of power after elections.

For Zanu-PF and the government, using the counter-terrorism exercise to include issues of support for political parties, tightening registration requirements for NGOs and introducing executive control over NGOs is is to pervert the entire intent behind the fight against money laundering and the control of illicit financial flows. . This betrays the real intention to silence civil society before the elections; limit the ability of civil society to monitor and denounce attempts to overturn genuine elections; and to prevent reporting of violence, intimidation and electoral fraud.

Not much new here. We say nothing that is not said elsewhere.

zimbabwe democracy protesters
Protesters block a main road leading to downtown Kuwadzana, Harare, Zimbabwe, January 14, 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Aaron Ufumeli)

The UN Human Rights Council had strong things to say following Zimbabwe’s report on the Universal Periodic Review: Belgium, Brazil, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Mexico, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States have all made recommendations that contradict the intent behind the PVO bill . Several United Nations special rapporteurs have also expressed concerns about the PVO bill. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association was one of them. The bill received a totally negative response from Zimbabwean civil societywith at least one organization threaten legal action.

The PVO Bill as presented in its latest version would provoke a firestorm of criticism in any SADC or African country and should be condemned as a profound rejection of the true values ​​of Pan-Africanism. This is not a trivial government intervention, but an attempt to destroy civil society through a crude attempt to retain political power by preventing citizens and citizen organizations from arbitrating an election. The PVO bill should be rejected in its entirety by all: Zimbabweans, Africans and the international community. SM/MC

Tony Reeler is Principal Investigator at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU)Dzikamai Bere is director of ZimRightsand Musa Kika is director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. They write on their own.