By Alex Bell
12 March 2013
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has ordered the Zimbabwe government to make provisions to allow Zimbabweans abroad to vote in Saturday’s referendum.
This decision was made at the end of last month’s Commission meeting in The Gambia, but the details were only recently communicated to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The lawyers had filed the case before the Commission last December, on behalf of exiled Zimbabweans Gabriel Shumba, Kumbirai Tasuwa Muchemwa, Gilbert Chamunorwa, Diana Zimbudzana and Solomon Sairos Chikohwero.
The Commission directed the government to provide all eligible voters, including the five mentioned in the case, the same voting facilities it affords to Zimbabweans working abroad in the service of the government. According to that order, Zimbabweans abroad should all have the right to use the postal voting system that diplomats and other government officials abroad use to vote.
The Commission stated that the government must report back on the implementation of the provisional measures requested within 15 days of receipt the order, but it is not clear when this deadline is.
It is unlikely this deadline will be before Saturday’s referendum, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has already stated that normal postal votes for people in government service in the Diaspora will not be provided this weekend, due to time constraints.
Exiled human rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba, who led the application, told SW Radio Africa that they don’t expect the provisions will be in place for a postal vote this weekend. He said the Commission’s decision however sets an important legal precedent ahead of the general elections later this year.
But he added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the government does not honour the Commission’s ruling, saying: “It would not be the first time the government has ignored regional court rulings, for example they ignored the SADC Tribunal. They even ignore rulings made in the country.”
He explained that if the govern did ignore the order, this contempt would have to be handled by the African Union (AU).
“For us it means that there could be other avenues of human rights and political advocacy to follow. The key element for us is that the order has been passed and this is a legal order that we can then use in the future,” Shumba said.