Statement of the international ecumenical peace observer mission on the Zimbabwe presidential election
13 March 2002
Presented to the press in Harare, 13 March 2002.
We, international ecumenical peace observers from the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), have been invited by the president of Zimbabwe, under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, to observe the 9-12 March 2002 presidential election processes.
Because we believe in the universality of the Christian Church, we consider it both a privilege and an inherent part of our Christian calling to accompany the people of Zimbabwe in their search for peace and justice via the democratic election of a Zimbabwean president. We are committed to non-partisanship, seeking the will of God, and observing the election process in line with human rights. In fulfilling our observer mission, we have been guided by the principles of universality, transparency, secrecy, fairness and freedom.
Since the country's liberation from a racist regime, the principle of "one man, one vote" has guided elections in Zimbabwe. In a country struggling with economic hardships, reaching out to every voter in this country is not an easy task. We commend the efforts of polling officers and monitors who have concluded an enormous task, and we applaud the voters who turned out in millions, showing civic responsibility and endurance.
But huge numbers of people were denied the possibility of voting. In Harare Province, many people gave up queuing and thousands were turned away, even after waiting for days. Pregnant women and others were forced to endure this mismanagement, which became a violation of the dignity of the voters.
We were also concerned about the high denial rate at polling stations, commonly reaching more than 10%. This was due, among other things, to deficiencies in the voter education and registration procedures, and the rigid application of these procedures. The postal vote system only functioned for a limited and preferred group; polling agents like teachers, for instance, were sent outside their constituencies and could have been included in the postal vote.
Technically, the voting and counting followed the prescribed procedures, and polling agents from the two leading parties were present at almost all the polling stations we visited.
We appreciate that the government invited international election observers from most countries, but regret that only 109 out of more than 3,650 local observers from the churches were accredited.
We think the fuller participation of the civil society in voter education and monitoring of the election process would have increased its transparency.
We are concerned about the lack of public awareness and insight into the registration process and the supplementary voters' roll.
We were reminded of a recommendation by the Zimbabwean Council of Churches in their 2001 pastoral letter to amend the electoral law to allow for an independent electoral commission.
Our impression is that people had their chance to vote in secret, with the possible exception of postal votes, which we did not observe. We observed that the majority of the people assisted to vote were women, due to illiteracy. This jeopardized their access to a secret ballot. Voter education would have helped them to practise their right in secret.
We acknowledge the important role of media in informing and educating the public during an election. However, we observed that the print media in Zimbabwe were polarized, with government-owned media supporting the ruling party and most of the private-owned media supporting the opposition party. This polarization exacerbated an already hostile atmosphere, to which some Western media also contributed. In Zimbabwe, the radio, the sole medium in most of the rural areas, and TV are controlled by the governing party.
Some of the limitations on the universality of the votes also led to limitations in fairness, giving one party an advantage over the others. The disenfranchisement of voters in Harare is an example of this. Closer analysis of the registration process may also reveal some problems of fairness and justice, including the issues of postal votes, supplementary voters' roll, and dual citizenship.
The many cases of intimidation we observed or which were reported to us constitute a serious limitation to fairness during these elections.
To participate actively in an election, freedom of expression, association and assembly, and from intimidation are essential. The most serious problem in Zimbabwe during this election was the political violence. We received detailed information from the churches and human rights organizations that about 150 people were killed in political violence since April 2001. Many incidents of harassment, rape, malicious damage to property and general breakdown in the rule of law were reported to us, some of which took place during the days of the election.
The violence comes from the rivalry between the two leading parties. Both parties were behind violent episodes, but documentation from human rights organizations as well as our own observations indicate that the clear majority of cases should be blamed on the ruling party.
The Zimbabwean churches have repeatedly and strongly appealed to all parties to stop the violence and the recruitment of young people for organized violent activities. A special responsibility rests with the police to be non-partisan in political antagonism and respond to all types of violence.
We appeal for an end to the many arrests of opposition parties' officials and of others voicing opposition. We are also concerned about the so-called "fast track laws" which have allowed freedom of assembly and press freedom to be obstructed.
These observations preclude us from confirming the elections to be universal, transparent, fair or free.
We hope there will be a road to peace from what the Zimbabwe Council of Churches calls "a very frightening culture of politically motivated violence". But there is no easy road to peace. The road to peace includes the values of truth, justice and reconciliation. As expressed in Psalm 85, "Mercy and Truth have met together, and Justice and Peace have kissed each other." There can be no sustainable peace without economic justice. Peace can only be initiated through honest and open dialogue between earlier antagonists.
The ecumenical movement, globally and in Africa and as it observes the Decade to Overcome Violence, is engaged in creative peace programmes. We call upon churches and all peace-loving persons around the world to pray for the people of Zimbabwe and not forsake them, but support them in these difficult times.