NEW YORK (November 15, 2017) — Amid what appears to be a bloodless military coup d’état against Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) urges the Zimbabwe Defense Forces to refrain from violence and to hold free and fair elections that comply with international standards, which would include allowing full participation by opposition groups and international election monitors. If the Zimbabwean military is now in control of the country’s government, it should immediately oversee the creation of an inclusive transitional governing body. This body should then call for elections within six months and hold them no later than 12 to 18 months from the moment the dictator is deposed.
“Zimbabwe has not had free and fair elections for decades. Mugabe’s 37-year rule has eliminated true electoral competition by shuttering opposition parties and independent media outlets, arresting journalists, and banning protests and demonstrations,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Today, Zimbabwe’s de facto rulers have the opportunity to be on the right side of history. They can choose to go down a violent path and enthrone themselves as new dictators, or they can choose to facilitate a transition to democracy by refraining from violence, creating a broad interim governing coalition, and calling for free and fair elections in the short term.”
Yesterday, Zimbabwe’s military took control of Harare, the country’s capital, days after the commander of the armed forces vowed to respond to purges of top officials within Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF. In particular, the dismissal of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the country’s vice president, appears to be part of an effort to purge potential successors within Mugabe’s regime and position his wife, Grace Mugabe, as a successor to the 93-year-old head of state.
Last night, during a televised address, a military spokesman affirmed that Mugabe and his family were “safe and sound” and that the armed forces would only target “criminals around him who are committing crimes [and] causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.” According to the spokesperson, the “situation will return to normalcy” as soon as the military has “accomplished [its] mission.”
“Because coup d’états can be violent, abrupt, and used to illegally depose democratically-elected leaders, they are typically perceived as classic examples of constitutional breakdowns in otherwise stable countries,” said Javier El-Hage, director of HRF’s Center for Law and Democracy. “However, when coup leaders unseat brutal dictators and refrain from using unnecessary violence, they can have the power to end years or even decades of tyrannical repression, and can mark the beginning of a much-awaited transition to democratic rule. We hope that this will be the case for Zimbabwe.”
HRF’s legal research has contributed to the definition of the term “coup d’état” under international law. In 2010, HRF published a 300-page legal report on the 2009 coup in Honduras by the parliament-backed military, which followed months of democratic erosion under caudillo president Manuel Zelaya. HRF’s legal definition of “coup” was then adopted by the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR-H) in its 800-page final report published in June 2011.
To learn more about human rights violations and corruption under Mugabe’s dictatorial rule, watch HRF’s Oslo Freedom Forum talks from Evan Mawarire on the “#ThisFlag” social movement, Peter Godwin on “Mugabe's Reign of Terror,” Owen Maseko on “Painting a Massacre,” and Jestina Mukoko on being “In Mugabe's Crosshairs.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF’s Center for Law and Democracy is a project that seeks to promote legal scholarship focused on international human rights law and international democracy law.