Two teams of observers have arrived in Zimbabwe to observe the March 29th parliamentary and local elections there. One is from the Pan African Parliament, which is the legislative body of the African Union. The Southern African Development Community or SADC, an intergovernmental organization furthering cooperation among fifteen southern African countries, has also sent election observers.
The observers have a challenging task ahead of them. Human rights monitors fear that elections there will not be free and fair.
Human Rights Watch, an independent human rights monitoring group, has issued a fifty-nine-page report entitled: “All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe’s Coming General Elections.” The report charges that the Zimbabwean government and the ruling ZANU-PF party have, in the words of Human Rights Watch, “engaged in widespread intimidation of the opposition, have restricted freedom of association and assembly, and have manipulated food and farming equipment distribution to gain political advantage.”
In its most recent human rights report, the U.S. State Department notes that Zimbabwe is an authoritarian regime and the country’s last two national elections, the presidential election of 2002 and the parliamentary elections in March 2005, were not free and fair. The report states that throughout 2007, the Zimbabwean government “engaged in pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights.” These included unlawful killings and politically motivated abductions by government agents, torture, harsh prison conditions, and the suppression of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association.
U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee says the U.S. government shares the concerns expressed by a variety of organizations about electoral irregularities and possible violence. “Despite all these ominous signs,” says Ambassador McGee, “we urge all Zimbabweans to vote. While all the Zimbabwean people do not have the power alone to ensure that democracy prevails,” he said, “it will surely not prevail unless they play their part.”