The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Zimbabwe recently to view first hand humanitarian conditions in the Southern African nation.
Traveling at the invitation of the government in Harare, Commissioner Navi Pillay met with President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and several government and NGO groups. She raised many areas of concern stemming from the country’s bitter history and recent political turmoil. She also highlighted the lack of media freedom as a point of significant concern, mentioning specifically continued media censorship, the use of state media to denigrate opposition activists, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s political bias, and the use of vague legislation to arbitrarily detain journalists and media activists.
“A vibrant civil society is a crucial part of any democratic society’s development, in all spheres including human rights, and it should be strongly supported even if some of its messages make uncomfortable reading for those in authority,” the high commissioner said.
Freedom of information and expression are essential human rights, for Zimbabweans as for all global citizens. Indeed, they are enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution. The Harare government should reform the current repressive legislation, grant new licenses to independent broadcasters, and allow the people to hear multiple viewpoints and voices.
Albeit slowly, change has occurred since the transitional government was formed three years ago. Reforms have been made to halt the country's notorious hyper-inflation and steady its economy. But political and electoral changes, including many reforms needed to ensure press freedom, vibrant public discourse, and free and fair, non-violent elections, have not occurred.