Daily Archives: March 25, 2014

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s Demining Neglected

Harare — In Zimbabwe’s sparsely populated northeastern district of Mukumbura, the cattle are trained to move in single file in search of water and pastures, a measure to protect them from anti-personnel landmines.

Villagers rarely venture far, and if they do, it is along well-worn foot paths. But flooding, a frequent occurrence, can dislodge the mines and bring them to the surface, where curious children treat them as toys, and are killed or maimed. The landmines prevent villagers from hunting or gathering wild fruits and restrict land usage for domestic animals.

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, an initiative that reports on implementation of and compliance with the 1999 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), using data from the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre (ZIMAC), says 1,585 people were maimed or killed by mines between 1980 and 2012.

In 2012, 12 deaths and 11 injuries were reported across Zimbabwe, an increase from one death and two injuries from the previous year, but the monitor said the increase may be the result of improved reporting. “ZIMAC has stated for many years that incidents in remote areas are underreported,” the monitor pointed out.

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), which in 2012 began a demining programme in Manicaland, along the Mozambique border, said that since 1980, anti-personnel mines have killed more than 120,000 cattle in Zimbabwe.

Lingering for decades

Mukumbura is just one of many areas affected by anti-personnel mines that were laid along the borders of Mozambique and Zambia more than three decades ago, when Zimbabwe – then known as Rhodesia – fought for independence from Britain.

The mines fields were laid by Rhodesian security forces as a barrier against the infiltration of liberation fighters from neighbouring states. The minefields were mapped, but some records were lost during the 1980 transition from colonial Rhodesia to independent Zimbabwe, a senior military intelligence officer, who declined to be named, told IRIN.

“The younger generations in that area [Mukumbura] are victims of a war that ended years before they were born. They are captives in their own land, but seem to have accepted that their own children and future generations will still live next door to the mines. It is taking too long to clear the mines,” a police detective from the area told IRIN.

A 2012 ZIMAC report noted, “These mined areas have had a severe socio-economic impact on Zimbabwean rural communities.”

The mines have prevented the safe movement of communities, inhibited access to water sources, curtailed the expansion of tea and timber plantations, and hampered tourism, the report stated.

Landmine-clearing operations began in 1982, but progress has been slow, a fact blamed on inadequate funding and a lack of political will. The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor in 2012 estimated about 1.17 million mines remain.

Clifford Sibanda, a parliamentarian from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and chair of a committee with oversight of the defence ministry, said demining was not a priority issue for President Robert Mugabe’s government.

“Zimbabwe is lagging way behind in clearing the mines as current generations are severely affected by their presence. It is clear that the government has had its priorities misplaced. Granted, the economy is currently performing poorly, but even when the situation was better, not much progress was recorded,” he told IRIN.

“Right from the start, there was [a] need to come up with a solid policy that would specify the amount of land to be freed of the landmines per year and sufficient funds allocated for that,” he said.

Poor funding, equipment

The economy has suffered a series of blows since 1997, when Mugabe’s government paid compensation to war veterans – which immediately saw the currency devalued – followed by the costs of the army’s involvement in a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the fast-track land reform programme, which ushered in a decade of economic malaise and hyperinflation.

A recent parliamentary report said demining operations by the military would be constrained by poor funding after the finance ministry revealed its 2014 national budget. The budget allocated US$500,000 instead of the $2 million requested for demining this year.

In July 2012, while signing a memorandum of understanding with NPA for mine clearance operations, the defence secretary, Martin Rushwaya, said, “Our Zimbabwean Corps of Engineers is facing a number of challenges, particularly with regard to the use of old and antiquated equipment, which has proved difficult to use. This means that the engineers need a lot of support as they cannot complete the [demining] job on their own.”

Zimbabwe is a signatory to the MBT, which stipulates that each member state must “undertake to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible.”

Zimbabwe missed its 2009 mine clearance deadline and was granted a 22-month extension, which it also failed to meet.

The deadline has since been extended to January 2015, but Sibanda said, “There is little hope the government will be able to meet its obligations by then.”

Unreliable statistics

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor says statistics on Zimbabwe’s demining progress are confusing.

“Although Zimbabwe has cleared or otherwise released several mined areas, the data it has provided on land release are extremely inconsistent. Statements at conferences, three… deadline extension requests and annual… transparency reports offer inconsistent data on the remaining problem, and annual results reported since 2000 do not add up to the cumulative results reported” in its comments on the deadline extension request.

It notes some government information suggest about 20sqkm of land remains contaminated, while other information shows 223sqkm remain to be cleared.

While applying for the MBT extension in 2012, ZIMAC noted that about 205sqkm of contaminated land remained from the original 511sqkm identified in 1982.

According to Halo Trust, a UK-based demining organization, landmines can still be found on a combined borderline estimated at 335km, with the mines extending inland from the borders.

ZIMAC indicated that major minefield clearance started in 1998 with technical, training and financial support from the US, but was discontinued after 18 months. This was replaced with European Union (EU) support between 1999 and 2000, but this also ended as donors withdrew their support.

The government is currently being assisted by HALO Trust, NPA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which are helping with the training of army engineers and the formulation of demining policies.

According to HALO, which received $864,000 from Japan for demining in Mukumbura, the “humanitarian situation is still very much that of a country in the immediate post-conflict phase. There are mines in immediate proximity of houses, school and clinics”.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

South Africa: State Closes Case in Pistorius Trial

Photo: Marco Longari/Sapa

South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius cries in court (file photo).

Pretoria — The State closed its case in Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial in the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday.

“If it pleases the court, My Lady, learned assessors, this is the State’s case,” prosecutor Gerrie Nel told Judge Thokozile Masipa.

This happened shortly after Barry Roux, for Pistorius, recalled Colonel Johannes Vermeulen to the stand to re-examine him.

Vermeulen had testified about the marks Pistorius made in the door of his toilet with his cricket bat.

He shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through the locked door, apparently thinking she was an intruder, in his Pretoria home on February 14 last year. He then used a cricket bat to break down the door and get Steenkamp out.

After Nel had spoken, Roux asked for a postponement of the trial until Friday.

“We need your indulgence to consider the statements of witnesses not called by the State and see who will be available and willing to talk to us,” he told Masipa.

She granted the postponement.

Pistorius is charged with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp and with contraventions of the Firearms Control Act.

Zimbabwe: Victory for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled today that the State was liable for failing to provide a rape survivor with emergency contraception and ordered the government to pay damages.

“The Supreme Court judgment is a significant victory for women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Zimbabwe,” said Nyasha Chingore, project lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the case. “This ruling sends a clear signal that it is time for the Zimbabwean government to prioritise the rights of women, particularly the survivors of sexual and gender based violence – it has failed them too many times in the past.”

The precedent-setting case was launched by Mildred Mapingure, who was raped in 2006. She sought emergency contraception within 72 hours to ensure that she did not become pregnant. However, Mapingure failed to access the emergency contraception in time due to delays at the police station, the police’s failure to provide her with proper information, and a doctor’s inability to distinguish between termination of pregnancy and emergency contraception.

Having failed to prevent the pregnancy, Mapingure sought a lawful termination: as a victim of rape she is eligible for an abortion under Zimbabwe’s Termination of Pregnancy Act. But due to judicial delays, she was unable to obtain the necessary court order in time and eventually gave birth.

The Court dismissed a second claim arguing that the State was liable for failing to ensure a timeous termination of pregnancy, and thus had to provide maintenance for the child.

The case was referred back to the High Court for a determination of the quantum of damages.

South Africa: Pistorius Trial – Week Four, Day Two

Day 15 of the Pistorius trial, where we ended yesterday with the testimony of police Colonel Francois Moller as to the content of text messages swapped between Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius – some of which painted the picture of a not-always-rosy relationship.

09.00 When we come back this morning, we’ll see the state’s Gerrie Nel continue to lead evidence from police phone expert Francois Moller. Yesterday Moller read the court a number of messages exchanged between the two which were considered “relevant” to the case – in other words, casting doubt on the defence’s claim that all was hunky-dory in the Pistorius-Steenkamp relationship – though he also stated that 90% of the messages were normal and loving. Perhaps the defence will produce a number of those loving and normal messages today to reinforce their case.

Journalists are reporting that soccer player Mark Batchelor has been spotted outside the courthouse, raising the possibility that Batchelor may be one of the state’s final witnesses. Batchelor got into a fight with Pistorius in 2012, during the course of which Pistorius allegedly threatened to break the soccer player’s legs. It’s worth noting, however, that Batchelor has his own history of involvement with brawls which might seem to make him a risky prospect on the witness stand. Let’s see.

11.00 We kicked things off this morning with the state focusing on leading detailed evidence from Francois Moller from the billing records of Steenkamp and Pistorius’s phones….

20 Years of improving security and justice

Before 1994 the security forces and the justice system functioned with the express intention of upholding the apartheid state. The security forces were despised by most people, lacked legitimacy and operated as an instrument of control.

Twenty years into our democracy the situation is very different. Today the police and the criminal justice system are committed to protecting all citizens and upholding the rule of law.

As South Africans commemorate Human Rights Month, we must never forget the brutality and oppression of our past. The protections entrenched in our Constitution and the Bills of Rights are a guarantee that citizens will never again be subjected to human rights abuses by the state.

At the recent Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster media briefing, Jeff Radebe, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, reminded the nation of the challenges we faced in 1994.

“The new democratic government inherited a dysfunctional and polarised system which deliberately denied the fundamental rights of the majority of people. The challenge that confronted us was to unite and help transform a nation that was divided across race, class, sex, creed and economic status. In addition, we were faced with the urgent task of ensuring a safer and secure South Africa,” he said.

He emphasised: “As government we knew that we needed to remodel the criminal justice system and align it with the values enshrined in our Constitution. We needed to create a system that is readily-responsive to serve the citizens, to afford them dignity and recourse; one that is able to inspire the confidence of the ordinary South African.”

The sorry state of affairs at the time is echoed by findings from the Twenty Year Review South Africa 1994 – 2014. It shows that before 1994, separate systems for the administration of justice functioned in South Africa. The former homelands had police and justice departments and other justice – related structures. As a result, there was a disparity in the delivery of services, depending on race and geographic location. Commanding personnel were mostly white men.

The report highlights that before 1994, the primary focus of law enforcement and the justice system was on upholding the apartheid state. The resulting highly centralised, para-militarised and authoritarian police service concentrated its efforts and resources on eliminating opposition to the apartheid regime.

South Africa today is indeed a better place; however the government acknowledges that more must be done. Our successes in fighting crime must be viewed against what we inherited as a nation in 1994. The prevalent view of crime increasing since 1994 is wrong.

The Twenty Year Review shows that crime had reached alarming proportions before 1994. In 1992 alone, more than 20 000 people were reported to have been murdered in South Africa as a result of political and criminal violence. At the time, there were 380 000 rape cases in South Africa every year, with 95 per cent of the victims being African.

Significant progress has been made in reforming the criminal justice system. The rule of law is paramount and the Constitution guides our efforts. In line with the prescripts of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a number of state institution are in place to ensure access to justice. Our courts operate without fear or favour, are independent and are subject only to the Constitution and the law.

Independent bodies such as the Office of the Public Protector; the South African Human Rights Commission; the National Prosecuting Authority; the Independent Police Investigative Directorate; Anti-Corruption Task Team; Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation; Civilian Secretariat for the Police; and Legal Aid South Africa, all serve to further strengthen and legitimise the rule of law.

The fight against corruption has always been on government’s radar and has been significantly ramped up. Measures have been put in place to prevent public servants from doing business with the state, and the JCPS Cluster is busy developing an Anti-Corruption Framework.

Much has changed since 1994 but further work must be done to reduce levels of serious and violent crime. Efforts to ensure an efficient and effective criminal justice system must be further improved so that all citizens may enjoy equal access to justice.

As we look forward to the next 20 years, government will continue to work with society to ensure a safer South Africa. Our historic journey has shown that no challenge is too great.