Governments have many ways of protecting human rights. One method of protecting these rights is the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Zimbabwe, as well as 52 other countries in Africa, have signed the Charter. The charter says that ‘every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right.’ This means that physically harming or killing a person is a violation of their human rights. Despite this, the military have used violence on the protesters. This is a breach of the African charter and violates human rights. This is because the integrity of their persons has been compromised.
WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN ZIMBABWE?
Following the 37 year reign of Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa became president of Zimbabwe on August 26th, 2018. Since then he has pledged open government and a programme to stabilise the failing economy and boost foreign investment. Recently, increased prices of basic goods such as fuel, rice and sugar, and high underlying inflation have led to street protests.
There has been lots of violence against the protesters. Hundreds of people have been arrested, and many are being held without reason. Being detained without reason in this way is a human rights violation. The president said that he was ‘appalled’ by the violence and ordered the arrest of the involved officials. The unrest is still ongoing.
In world history, political unrest such as that in Zimbabwe often leads to violence against citizens. Violence against citizens is a violation of human rights. There are many examples of political unrest which have lead to this. These include the Tuareg rebellion in Mali, the Kenyan Crisis in 2007 and 2008 and the recent turmoil in Libya. In these examples, huge numbers of people suffered extreme violence and many have died.
WHY ARE HUMAN RIGHTS THREATENED IN TIMES OF POLITICAL INSTABILITY?
It is in times of such political tension that human rights are the most at risk. This is because during political unrest the government is not as strong as usual. If the government isn’t strong, human rights protection may also be weak. Most at risk are minority groups within a society. These can be the protesters themselves as in Zimbabwe, or an ethnic or social minority, such as in the Kenyan Crisis.
Political instability does not mean that human rights should be violated. There should be no excuse for the violation of rights. Despite this, the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights recognises that human rights protection may be limited in times of public emergency. However, the right to life and the right to a fair trial cannot be limited, among others. Political unrest can even bring about positive change in the longer term. This is because it is often a good catalyst for a fairer and better society. Yet, large political upheaval can enable terrible mass suffering to occur unchecked. Everyone should be able to enjoy the basic rights given to them under the African Charter.