Waves of repression: it’s time that the UK Government suspended enforced removals to Zimbabwe

Unthinkable that a country signed to the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights should have an existing policy of enforced returns to a country, where those in power, not only are intolerant of it’s citizens’ justified peaceful criticisms, but will main and kill to remain in power?

The UK Government does have such a policy. In fact, it has since 2018 been working hand in hand with the Zimbabwean government to re-document even those who have continued to express a fear of return to Zimbabwe. 

Return is to a country where the president has declared war on it’s citizens: “On August 4, President Emmerson Mnangagwa publicly denounced critics in a speech, describing them as “dark forces,” “a few rogue Zimbabweans,” and “terrorist opposition groupings.” He said: “Those who promote hate and disharmony will never win. The bad apples that have attempted to divide our people and weaken our systems shall be flushed out. Good shall triumph over evil.” He said nothing about the constitutional rights of Zimbabweans to peacefully protest or the government’s domestic and international human rights obligations”,- https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/zimbabwe-sadc-au-should-denounce-crackdown

It’s also difficult to ignore the defiant online protest movement that has been raging in Zimbabwe, reaching a crescendo in the last few days – “The Zimbabwe crackdown on activists has inspired an online campaign, with the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, which has resulted in more than 700,000 tweets in two days, but neither SADC nor the African Union has spoken out about the situation. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chairperson of the African Union, should press President Mnangagwa to end the wave of repression and promote respect for human rights”.- https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/zimbabwe-sadc-au-should-denounce-crackdown

What impact does all this have on undocumented Zimbabweans living in the UK?

Generally, forced removals from the UK in the last few months seem likely to have only been suspended due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, however very recent news reports indicate that the Home Office intend to resume removals- https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/home-office-asylum-seekers-deportation-coronavirus-a9657761.html

This general position will inevitably impact those targeted for removal to Zimbabwe- despite the risks to person and political instability in that country.

ENFORCED RETURNS TO ZIMBABWE STILL UK POLICY

There has been no UK Government policy for a decade against the forcible removal of undocumented Zimbabweans. What stopped mass removals from the UK  for a couple of years thereafter until 2018, was the persistent intrusion of an existing policy instituted by the Zimbabwean Government under former president Mugabe. This policy resulted in refusals by the Zimbabwean government in accepting non-consenting Zimbabwean returnees who were not willing to attend at the Zimbabwean Embassy in London and apply voluntarily for an emergency travel document. After president Mnangagwa seized power(November 2017), agreement was reached between the two governments in 2018, with the Zimbabwean government agreeing to issue  return travel documents to failed asylum seekers or the undocumented, with or without their consent-  so long as their identity  and nationality had been vetted in advance by way of interviews by Zimbabwe Embassy officials.

Asa result of this repatriation agreement between the two governments, from late 2018, travel documents have been issued by the Zimbabwean Embassy, however most have lain unused due to inability to remove returnees for one reason or the other.  Applications and fresh asylum claims have been submitted to the Home Office and in such circumstances, removals cannot take place until a determination of the claims by the UK Government or the courts.

PROLONGED VIOLENCE BY THE ZIMBABWEAN GOVERNMENT

The main reason why the UK Government for many years had in place a policy of non-forcible returns for  Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers, was due to the “turbulent political conditions” in that country- https://ukimmigrationjusticewatch.com/2016/12/13/valid-passport-with-the-home-office-zimbabweans-with-no-claims-still-very-much-removable-from-the-uk/

As above, that UK policy was lifted a decade ago.

The  other remaining layer of “protection” arising from the UK government problem of obtaining return travel documents from the Zimbabwean Embassy, fell away in 2018 in light of the repatriation agreement.

The problem in terms of protection and safety for those liable for removal to Zimbabwe stems from the current risk of ill- treatment, violence, or death they might face on return, having regard to current country conditions.

Events over the past two years indicate an entrenchment of political violence in Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa’s rule:

  • Following the July 2018 elections, but before the announcement of the results in August 2018, in response to protests in Zimbabwe, soldiers moved around beating up people  in their  homes. People were fired at and some killed despite not  having been involved in the protests nor being opposition members. Others  were  arrested, detained and ill-treated – https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/03/zimbabwe-least-6-dead-post-election-violence
  • In August 2019, the Zimbabwean government went as far as targeting  suspected  would – be protesters  and these perceived to be part of the opposition days before the intended demonstrations which were meant to start on 16 August 2019. Opposition supporters were targeted in advance and thereafter, some beaten and abducted. The demonstrations were banned at the last minute by the Zimbabwean authorities-  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/16/zimbabwe-riot-police-teargas-batons-clear-protesters
  • Zimbabwean opposition activists and a member of parliament described torture, humiliation and repeated sexual assaults after being abducted by suspected state security services. The three women, all leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change’s youth movement, were arrested at a roadblock guarded by police and soldiers on 13 May 2020 at a protest in Harare against the state’s failure to provide for the poor during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown. They then disappeared until they were found on a roadside on Friday morning 60 miles away from the capital by a local man, badly injured and traumatised- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/17/zimbabwean-mdc-activists-abducted-and-sexually-assaulted

Currently, as below, ongoing waves of violence against its citizens by the Zimbabwean government continue.

THOSE AT RISK

In addition to members or supporters of the MDC (which is led by Nelson Chamisa) and those perceived to be in opposition to the government, the following are persecuted in Zimbabwe:

Political and human rights activists, critics and protestors:

Zimbabwe: SADC,AU Should Denounce Crackdown, 6 August 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/zimbabwe-sadc-au-should-denounce-crackdown:

“SADC and the African Union should call out Zimbabwe’s government for its repression and rampant abuses throughout the country,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s important for these regional institutions to send strong signals to the Mnangagwa administration that flagrant violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other human rights treaties are unacceptable.

………………

The Zimbabwe authorities have increasingly arbitrarily arrested critics of the government, Human Rights Watch said”.

Amnesty International- Zimbabwe: Authorities thwart anti-corruption protests, launch a witch-hunt against activists, 31 July 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/zimbabwe-authorities-thwart-anti-corruption-protests-launch-a-witchhunt-against-activists/:

“Zimbabwean authorities have thwarted a peaceful anti-corruption protest which was planned for today and launched a witch-hunt against political and human rights activists suspected of being behind the planned demonstration, Amnesty International said today.

A number of activists have gone into hiding after police published a list of names of human rights defenders who are wanted for questioning in connection with the planned protests. A number of opposition leaders are also understood to be wanted by the police, while six others have already been arrested.

“The brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders who have had the courage to call out alleged corruption and demand accountability from their government is intensifying. The persecution of these activists is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system and mockery of justice,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

“This latest witch-hunt and repression of peaceful dissent is a continuation of what we have seen in the country in recent years, including the abductions and arbitrary arrests of those who are critical of the government, in an attempt to muzzle differing views. The thwarting of the protest illustrates the Zimbabwean authorities’ total intolerance of criticism.”

………

“Zimbabweans must be allowed to freely exercise their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must stop harassing, intimidating and arresting people who have done nothing more than peacefully express their opinions.”

Silencing of certain professions – journalists, doctors, nurses, comedians:

Amnesty International- Zimbabwe: Authorities continue their crackdown on dissent with arrest of investigative journalist and activist, 20 July 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/zimbabwe-authorities-continue-their-crackdown-on-dissent-with-arrest-of-investigative-journalist-and-activist/:

“Authorities in Zimbabwe are continuing their crackdown on dissent with the arrest of a prominent journalist, who exposed a multimillion-dollar scandal involving government officials, and a political activist, who called for a nationwide protest against corruption on 31 July, Amnesty International said today.

Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist, and Jacob Ngarivhume, an activist who called for the 31 July demonstrations, were arrested earlier today in Harare. Chin’ono has been exposing alleged corruption, including in the procurement of COVID-19 medical supplies.

“The arrests of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume are designed to intimidate and send sending a chilling message to journalists, whistleblowers and activists who draw attention to matters of public interest in Zimbabwe,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Zimbabwean authorities must stop misusing the criminal justice system to persecute journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must stop using the police and courts to silence dissent”.

Amnesty International- Zimbabwe: Authorities must drop charges against healthcare workers for demanding better wages, 7 July 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/zimbabwe-authorities-must-drop-charges-against-health-care-workers-for-demanding-better-wages/:

“In response to charges levelled against 13 nurses who are accused of contravening lockdown regulations, introduced as a way to address COVID-19, by protesting to demand better wages and working conditions, Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said:

“The charges levelled against these nurses, to enforce COVID-19 lockdown regulations, are clearly aimed at preventing them from organizing and speaking out against low wages and terrible working conditions.

“Zimbabwean authorities are arbitrarily using lockdown regulations to silence medical professionals and activists. The nurses were simply expressing their frustrations with their employer over the failure to address low salaries and longstanding poor working conditions. This, like other labour disputes currently unfolding in Zimbabwe, is a result of the neglect of health care services and the failure by the government to provide adequate remuneration. 

“Zimbabwean authorities must stop intimidating, harassing and suppressing dissent and instead start listening to the genuine concerns of healthcare workers. This is essential to effectively contain the spread of the virus.”

Outspoken Zimbabwe Doctor abducted, 18 September 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/18/outspoken-zimbabwe-doctor-abducted:

“It’s been four days since the leader of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Dr. Peter Magombeyi, went missing. According to a WhatsApp message he managed to send, three unidentified men abducted him from his home in the Budiriro neighborhood of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Since then, no one has heard from him.

Magombeyi, a government employee, had organized a series of protests to demand better salaries for government doctors, ZDHA said. Prior to his abduction, he had received a text message from a local mobile number threating him with disappearance.

……….

Magombeyi’s abduction is not an isolated case. Recent months have seen an alarming spike in abductions and tortureof critics of the government and the political opposition. Since the beginning of the year, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted several peaceful activists on baseless charges. 

Four weeks ago, six masked gunmen abducted and beat Zimbabwean comedian and government critic Samantha Kureya(known as “Gonyeti”). Kureya was forced to drink raw sewage before she was released. Another activist, Tatenda Mombeyara, was abductedby eight masked gunmen wielding AK-47 assault rifles. The abductors accused him of organizing anti-government protests and beat him badly, breaking his left leg and a finger, before abandoning him

Human Rights Watch has been able to confirm more than 50 cases of abductions of activists and other critics of the government this year. So far, none of the perpetrators have been arrested”.

Sexual violence against women as a political weapon:

Amnesty International- Zimbabwe: Drop bogus charges against opposition leaders who suffered sexual violence,27 May 2020,  https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/05/zimbabwe-drop-bogus-charges-against-opposition-leaders-who-suffered-sexual-assault/:

“In response to the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s decision to charge three female opposition MDC-Alliance party youth leaders for participating in peaceful protests against hunger during the lockdown period last month, Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa said:

“Joana Mamombe, Cecelia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova are victims of police brutality, sexual assault and enforced disappearance. Before charging them for allegedly breaking the lockdown rules, authorities must investigate the crimes against them.

“The charges against these three women are a travesty and ploy to intimidate the opposition and send a chilling message that anyone who challenges the government is putting themselves at risk.

…………..

The three leaders from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance (MDC-Alliance) were disappeared after they were arrested at a roadblock in Warren Park guarded by police and soldiers on 13 May.

They were part of a demonstration organized against the authorities’ failure to provide social protection for the poor during the COVID-19 lockdown. They were later dropped in Bindura after they were subjected to sexual assault violence used as a method of torture and other human rights violations.

They were charged with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence and breaches of the peace or bigotry as defined in section 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act among others”.

Persecution of relatives of political activists or critics of the Zimbabwean government:

WATCH: Niece To Political Activist Abducted, Later Dumped After Being Tortured And Sexually Assaulted, 7 August 2020, https://news.pindula.co.zw/2020/08/07/watch-niece-to-political-activist-abducted-later-dumped-after-being-tortured-and-sexually-assaulted/:

“Noxolo Maphosa, niece to Josphat Mzaca Ngulube, a former director in the ministry of sports and recreation for Bulawayo province and Political activist who has been missing since morning has been found.

Reports suggest that she had been abducted by suspected state security agents only to be dumped later in the day outside her home after she was tortured and sexually assaulted in Bulawayo.

Maphosa’s family reported in the morning that she made a distress call saying she was being followed at 1007hrs and her phone has been off since”.

Zimbabwe: SADC,AU Should Denounce Crackdown, 6 August 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/zimbabwe-sadc-au-should-denounce-crackdown:

“On the eve of the anti-corruption protests on July 30, security forces raided the house of Mduduzi Mathuthu, a prominent journalist and editor of the online newspaper Zimlive, in Bulawayo. Failing to find him, they arrested his three nephews, Tawanda Muchehiwa, 22, Advent Mathuthu, 25, and Amandlenkosi Mathuthu, 19. The security agents also detained Mathuthu’s sister, Nomagugu Mathuthu, to compel him to turn himself in, but released her hours later. Advent Mathuthu was charged with incitement of public violence after allegedly being found with flyers saying “Mnangagwa & His Cabinet Must Resign,” but was freed by a court

The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) issued a statement, emailed to Human Rights Watch, that security agents “dropped off” Mathuthu’s nephew Muchehiwa at his home on August 1 at about 10 p.m. The group said that he had been tortured by alleged security agents, resulting in serious injuries. According to medical documents reviewed by Human Rights Watch, Muchehiwa was assaulted with a wooden log and sprayed with an unknown substance all over his body. He suffered extensive bruises, an acute kidney injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder”.

THE PROBLEM OF OUT- DATED HOME OFFICE INFORMATION NOTES AND UPPER TRIBUNAL CASELAW

The relevant Home Office Country information Note, “Country and information note: opposition to the government, Zimbabwe, February 2019”, is one and half years out of date, only taking into account events running up to 1 February 2019.

The applicable country guidance caselaw, CM (EM country guidance; disclosure) Zimbabwe CG [2013] UKUT 59 (IAC) from the Upper Tribunal, published more than 7years ago, is limited to an account on Zimbabwe as at October 2012.

The anxious scrutiny that should be present is questionable when the Home Office and Tribunal apply outdated Notes and country guidance caselaw to determine asylum claims.

It is important to appreciate the context in which CM( Zimbabwe) was considered,7years ago by the Upper Tribunal:

“84. What was exceptional about the election violence in June 2008 is well described at [212] to [220] of RN. Instead of merely targeting MDC activists, members and supporters, ZANU-PF, through its use of militias deployed in urban areas, and militias, road blocks and no-go areas in certain rural provinces, unleashed a wave of persecution that brought a real risk of serious harm to those who could not demonstrate loyalty to the regime.

85. It is in this important context that the views expressed in the new material regarding the likelihood of violence at further elections needs to be viewed. With one possible exception, there is no indication that the comments in the new material, regarding election violence, ought to be read as considered assessments that any future elections would, in substance, lead to a repetition of what was seen in 2008. This went beyond anything seen before and drew the finding in RN, regarding risk on return, not just to those with a MDC profile, but to anyone who could not demonstrate loyalty to the regime.

130. As can be seen, one of the factors underpinning the Country Guidance in RN was the perception that, in late 2008, in the immediate aftermath of the power-sharing agreement, Mugabe and ZANUPF were intent on using the oppressive agents brought to bear during the election campaign, in order to eradicate the power of the MDC. By early 2011, by contrast, it was manifest that any such aim had long since failed: see [149] of EM. There was also highly compelling evidence, including from the appellants, that roadblocks were no longer a real risk: [152] and [153]. So far as Harare was concerned, the Tribunal in EM likewise had cogent evidence before it to indicate that, even during problematic periods such as the COPAC (Constitution Parliamentary Committee) campaign and the unrest in early 2011, the position in high density areas remained materially different from the period under consideration in RN. This can be seen by reading [159] to [173], [176], [201] to [205] and [243] of the EM determination (set out, for ease of reference, in Part 2 of Appendix A to this determination). So far as the unrest in early 2011 is concerned, see also paragraphs 102 to 106 above.

136. By contrast, the Tribunal in EM was assessing the position over two years after the end of the period considered in RN. The position on the ground in Zimbabwe had, for some significant time, been different. The powers haring agreement had given rise to the transitional government, with several ministries being occupied by MDC members. The feared eradication of the MDC as a political force had not happened. International (especially regional) pressure was being brought to bear on Mugabe and Zanu-PF. As [157] of EM noted, the British Ambassador could say in September 2010: “Had we in the chaos and violence of 2008 been offered a glimpse of the Zimbabwe of today, there is little doubt we would have seized it. Tsvangirai, harshly criticised for going into the coalition, has been proved right.”

These considerations, amongst others, led the Upper Tribunal in CM(Zimbabwe) to conclude in its Headnote:

“As a general matter, there is significantly less politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe, compared with the situation considered by the AIT in RN.  In particular, the evidence does not show that, as a general matter, the return of a failed asylum seeker from the United Kingdom, having no significant MDC profile, would result in that person facing a real risk of having to demonstrate loyalty to the ZANU-PF”.

The current evidence, which can be obtained from different sources, however shows politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe is on the increase and is significant. There are varied categories of persons who are at risk in Zimbabwe. The online protests movement has evolved and the regime has reacted viciously and brutally to this.  In such circumstances, a continued reference and focus in practice by the Home Office and Tribunal in seeking to look for a  “significant MDC profile” when determining claims from Zimbabwean asylum seekers, seems a wrong approach.

Regardless of whether or not a person has a profile, the position for consideration, resurrecting the principles arising from the previous case of RN(Returnees) Zimbabwe CG [2008] UKAIT 00083 , should be,  “Those at risk on return to Zimbabwe on account of imputed political opinion are no longer restricted to those who are perceived to be members or supporters of the MDC but include anyone who is unable to demonstrate support for or loyalty to the regime or Zanu-PF”. 

Unlike the position when CM(Zimbabwe) was decided, the current evidence shows political violence and repression in Zimbabwe has a wider ambit and is not sparse.

Contrary to circumstances when CM(Zimbabwe) was heard, the power sharing agreement with the MDC came to an end following general elections in July 2013, 6 months after CM was published. No ministries in government are occupied by the MDC.  As was the position when the case of RN(Zimbabwe) governed, the background evidence shows an intention by ZANU(PF) to silence or eradicate the power of the MDC led by Nelson Chamisa or those others in opposition to ZANU(PF).  Unlike the violence in late January/February 2011 as referred to above in CM, the  current background evidence indicates that 2019 and 2020 was punctuated by violence,  with the general population subjected to serious ill-treatment, not just those with a MDC profile, but  anyone unable to  demonstrate loyalty to the regime.

Unlike the violence of 2011, which was considered to have been orchestrated by a small clique of hardliners in a factionalised ZANU(PF), the violence, in particular from August 2018 was orchestrated both by the police and military, a military that ushered in president Mnangagwa through a coup following the forced resignation of Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe in 2017.

The increase in political violence or rather a change in the political situation in Zimbabwe as concerns the persecutory actions and methods of the regime is such that, for returnees, the majority who do not support ZANU(PF), there is a risk of ill-treatment on return to Zimbabwe for failure to demonstrate loyalty to the regime.

CONCLUSION

It is undeniable that Mnangagwa’s regime has unleashed a wave of persecution that brings about a real risk of serious harm to those who cannot demonstrate loyalty to the regime.

In the face of this, the current position  of the UK Government  in upholding  a position  of enforcing removals, can only be maintained on the basis that it is expected that such returnees,  must, in order to avoid ill-treatment, allow themselves to be cowered by  a brutal government,  be non- critical,  endure severe life destroying  economic hardship,  tolerate intimidation and violence from their own government.

Where that cannot logically be the expectation, a policy of suspension of forced removals to Zimbabwe should be published by the UK Government.