The legal system in Zimbabwe is a hybrid system, consisting of influences from Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary laws and traditions. The operation of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Zimbabwe has been governed by legislation since the colonial era. During the colonial era, the Welfare Organizations Act (1967) was aimed at controlling organizations believed to be linked to the liberation movement and spreading information about the human rights situation in what was then Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. While the Welfare Organizations Act remained in force, most CSOs focused on humanitarian efforts and operated under the auspices of churches as church-related bodies, training and education institutions. Few CSOs dared to tread into the political rights arena, as this attracted the wrath of the colonial government, which condemned any such activity, especially to the extent it was perceived to support, aid and/or abet the liberation cause. In addition, the Unlawful Organizations Act was used to ban African political and other colonial resistance movements and indeed any others perceived in the same light.
Following independence, and as the socio-political situation in post-independent Zimbabwe deteriorated in the late 1990s, there was a huge shift of emphasis by both old and new CSOs to issues dealing with democracy and governance. Indeed most of Zimbabwe’s opposition was born and bred from civil society. With the increased demand for democratic space and reforms in Zimbabwe, CSOs became targets of state harassment through increased legislative and administrative interference as they were perceived as extensions of political opposition. The ruling party at that time (President Mugabe’s ZANU PF) routinely declared that CSOs and even churches, or anyone who is not a politician, have no place in the politics of the country. These sentiments have continued to be echoed since the conclusion of July 2013 elections, which led to an outright win by the ZANU PF and brought an end to the transitional Inclusive Government (IG) of February 2009 that came into force with the signing of the Inter-Party Agreement in September 2008.
At the inception of the IG there was great public expectation that democratic space would open up for both ordinary Zimbabweans and for CSOs. Both the political opposition and CSOs had equally borne the brunt of state-sponsored brutality and repression, and both civic activists and their progressive allies in the opposition therefore expected that the reform agenda would finally be pursued. Some former opposition representatives in the IG relied heavily on CSOs for human resources and technical expertise in attempting to move the reform agenda forward. While there were pledges of a progressive legislative reform agenda to open up democratic space for CSOs and Zimbabweans, these reforms remain outstanding. The human rights situation also did not improve during the lifespan of the IG despite the secondment of a few CSO representatives to top government offices and to new institutions, such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Media Commission, among others. These institutions were ineffective, with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission facing operational constraints. During the last ten months of the IG, between October and July 2013, CSOs and their staff members werealso repeatedly targeted and a number of directors were charged with operating "illegally," which essentially means not registered.
With the ZANU PF's dominance in parliament, and increasing calls to align the laws with the provisions of the new Constitution, there are likely to be amendements to laws governing CSOs to ensure that registration of CSOs that are perceived to be opposed to the government are frustrated through slow beaurcratic processes. Although since December 2013 there have not been new cases of CSO leaders who were arrested for operating illegal organizations, CSO leaders with ongoing cases still continue to face charges with potential court cases in the future.
Ultimately, with the same ruling ZANU PF party that has been at the forefront of draconian laws that violate human rights in power, progressive legislative reform remains unlikely.
|Organizational Forms||Private Voluntary Organizations, Trusts, and Unincorporated Associations (“Universitas”)|
|Registration Body||For PVOs: The Registrar and the PVO Board, a body made up of representatives from 6 ministries and 3 PVO representatives.
For Trusts: The Registrar of Deeds.
|Barriers to Entry||Mandatory registration under the PVO Act, with penalties (fines and imprisonment) for carrying out activities or seeking financial assistance as an unregistered group.
Complex registration procedures for PVOs, including requirement to publish notice in local paper, calling for persons to lodge objections with Registrar.
No fixed time period for government review of PVO registration applications.
Vague grounds for denial of PVO registration, including where the applicant “appears unable to abide by the objectives” stated in its application.
Foreign organizations required to conclude memorandum of understanding with Government.
|Barriers to Activities||Ministry authority to interfere in internal affairs, through suspension of all or any of the members of the PVO’s executive committee where “it is necessary or desirable to do so in the public interest.”
Ministry authority to inspect “any aspect of the affairs or activities” of any PVO.
Severe sanctions available, including fines and imprisonment, against PVO for failing to abide by provisions of PVO Act.
Establishment of GONGOs.
NGOS are forced to sign Memoranda of Understanding with the local government for fees up to $1,000 with bans imposed on NGOs that do not sign.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||Prohibition against insulting the office or person of the President, uttering words which are likely to undermine police authority, or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state (Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act).
|Barriers to International Contact||No legal barriers. In practice, however, immigration authorities have denied entry to foreigners, or confiscated passports from CSO representatives.|
|Barriers to Resources||Foreign funding for conducting voter education prohibited.
Hostile environment created by government accusations against PVOs that receive foreign funding.
|Barriers to Assembly||Police interpret “notification” to mean "submit an application," even when organizers are not required to do so.|
|Type of Government||Parliamentary Democracy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 46.36 years
Female: 45.16 years
|Literacy Rate||Male: 94.2%
|Religious Groups||Syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs): 50%; Christian: 25%; indigenous beliefs: 24%; Muslim and other: 1%|
|Ethnic Groups||African: 98% (Shona 82%, Ndebele 14%, other 2%); mixed and Asian: 1%; white: less than 1%|
|GDP per capita||$428 (2012 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index 2014||156 (2014)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||2 (2012)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||2 (2012)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||157 (2013)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 6 (2015)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 2014
||Rank: 11 (2014)||178 – 1
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||--|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1991|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2013|
|African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights||Yes||1986|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||Yes||1995|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||Yes||2001|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa||Yes||2003|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights||Yes||1998|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
On May 22, 2013, a new Constitution came into force in Zimbabwe after it was published in the government Gazette. This followed a resounding “yes” vote after a referendum was conducted in the country to decide on whether to adopt this Constitution. The Constitution was a product of the reform agenda under the IG and was supposed to usher in democratic free and fair elections. This Constitution effectively replaced the Lancaster House Constitution although some of the provisions remained in force for the purpose of the elections.
Section 58 Freedom of assembly and association
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right not to assemble or associate with others.
(2) No person may be compelled to belong to an association or to attend a meeting or gathering.
59 Freedom to demonstrate and petition
Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.
60 Freedom of conscience
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, which includes—
(a) freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief; and
(b) freedom to practise and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private and whether alone or together with others.
(2) No person may be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to their religion or belief or to take an oath in a manner that is contrary to their religion or belief.
(3) Parents and guardians of minor children have the right to determine, in accordance with their beliefs, the moral and religious upbringing of their children, provided they do not prejudice the rights to which their children are entitled under this Constitution, including their rights to education, health, safety and welfare.
(4) Any religious community may establish institutions where religious instruction may be given, even if the institution receives a subsidy or other financial assistance from the State.
61 Freedom of expression and freedom of the media
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes—
(a) freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information;
(b) freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity; and
(c) academic freedom.
(2) Every person is entitled to freedom of the media, which freedom includes protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information.
(3) Broadcasting and other electronic media of communication have freedom of establishment, subject only to State licensing procedures that—
(a) are necessary to regulate the airwaves and other forms of signal distribution; and
(b) are independent of control by government or by political or commercial interests.
(4) All State-owned media of communication must—
(a) be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications;
(b) be impartial; and
(c) afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.
(5) Freedom of expression and freedom of the media exclude—
(a) incitement to violence;
(b) advocacy of hatred or hate speech;
(c) malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity; or
(d) malicious or unwarranted breach of a person’s right to privacy.
62 Access to information
(1) Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident, including juristic persons and the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level, in so far as the information is required in the interests of public accountability.
(2) Every person, including the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by any person, including the State, in so far as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right.
(3) Every person has a right to the correction of information, or the deletion of untrue, erroneous or misleading information, which is held by the State or any institution or agency of the government at any level, and which relates to that person.
(4) Legislation must be enacted to give effect to this right, but may restrict access to information in the interests of defence, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Act, 2013
- Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO)Act [Chapter 17:05]
- Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Act [Chapter 17:05] General Notice 99 of 2007 – Code of Procedure for the Registration and Operations of Non-Governmental Organizations in Zimbabwe
- The Cooperative Societies Act [Chapter 24:05]
- Emergency Powers Act [Chapter 11:04]
- Foreign Subversive Organizations Act [Chapter 11:05]
- Unlawful Organizations Act [Chapter 11:13] 
- Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Act [Chapter 11:21] (Not yet in force)
- Prevention of Discrimination Act [Chapter 8:16]
- Labour Act [Chapter 28:04]
- Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06]
- Indigenisation and Empowerment Act [Chapter 14:33]
- Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment (General) Regulations, 2010 (Statutory Instrument 21 of 2010)
- Deeds Registries Act [Chapter 20:05] (Act No 10 of 1959)
- Deeds Registries Regulations, 1977 (RGN 249 of 1977)
- Public Order Security Act [Chapter 11:17] (Act No.1 of 2002 as amended most recently by Act 18 of 2007
- Immigration Act [Chapter 4:02]
- Immigration Regulations, 1998 (Statutory Instrument 195 of 1998)
- Standard Scale of Fines as substituted by the Finance Act, 2009 (No. 3 of 2009) with effect from 23rd April 2009
- Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act
- Public Order and Security (POSA) Act
- Protected Areas and Places Act
 Due to be repealed by the Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Act [Chapter 11:21] Act 5 of 2007 whose date of commencement is yet to be fixed by the President.
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The Government has launched a number of regulatory initiatives, which, while ultimately not resulting in
enactment, do serve to distract and/or threaten the civic sector with a more restrictive legal environment.
1. Most notably, the NGO Bill of 2004 was enacted by Parliament, but never approved by the President, and it has since lapsed. The Bill would have prohibited local NGOs engaged in issues of governance from accessing foreign funds.
2. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Labor issued the “Joint Memorandum re: Amendment to the PVO Act and the Deeds Registries Act” (2009). The Memo proposed that trusts, which are registered with the Deeds Registry, and fall within the definition of a PVO, be expressly included within the embrace of the PVO Act – and therefore be obliged to register as a PVO before commencing activities. This would have subjected trusts to a burdensome two-tiered registration process, and to broad control by the Registrar and PVO Board.
3. On 22 March 2010, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare reportedly announced the Government’s intention to promulgate a legal instrument to regulate all organizations that are involved in HIV/AIDs in order to effectively coordinate the national response to the epidemic. The intention was apparently to create a legally binding obligation on all such CSOs to report to or be accountable to the National Aids Council (a state entity), established pursuant to the National Aids Council Act.
4. In October 2012 and June 2013, there were amendments to the Electoral Act, which sought to bar CSOs from conducting any form of voter education, without accreditation from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Reproduction and distribution of any forms of the voters' roll was also criminalized.
5. In 2014, the PVO Act has been listed as one of the laws that the government will amend as it carries out its so-called "harmonization agenda" to align all laws with the Constitution.
The three primary forms of civil society organization (CSO) in Zimbabwe are private voluntary organizations (PVOs), trusts and the associational form known as “universitas”. The characteristics and governing framework are described below.
Unconfirmed statements by government officials put the number of CSOs operating in Zimbabwe at over 20,000. The reports are unconfirmed since there is no publicly available record or database of registered legal entities. The multiple organizational forms that CSOs may and indeed do assume adds to the uncertainty.
Private Voluntary Organizations
A private voluntary organization (PVO) is defined as “any body or association of persons, corporate or unincorporate, or any institution, the objects of which include or are one or more of the following:
- the provision of all or any of the material, mental, physical or social needs of persons or families;
- the rendering of charity to persons or families in distress;
- the prevention of social distress or destitution of persons or families;
- the provision of assistance in, or promotion of, activities aimed at uplifting the standard of living of persons or families;
- the provision of funds for legal aid;
- the prevention of cruelty to, or the promotion of the welfare of, animals;
- such other objects as may be prescribed;
- the collection of contributions for any of the foregoing.”
[Private Voluntary Organizations Act, Section 2]
Trusts are regulated under the Deeds Registries Act, which allows the Registrar of Deeds to register notarial deeds in donation or in trust. Trusts typically have unlimited objectives which are often intended to benefit an identifiable constituency. The trust form, however, has also been used as a way of registering organizations that have faced difficulties in registering under the PVO Act. The PVO Act excludes trusts in its definition of what constitutes a PVO. [PVO Act, Section 2(1)(h)(iii)]
The use of the membership form known as “universitas” springs from the practice of recognizing an entity which has members, a constitution and activities that are entirely for the benefit of its members. It can be viewed as a common law persona; this form was recognized by the Zimbabwean Supreme Court in Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights & Anor v. The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe & Anor. Such an entity is excluded from registering under the PVO Act and is therefore not viewed as a PVO, but as the corporate form “universitas”.
Public Benefit Status
Zimbabwean law does not provide for any special “public benefit” or tax-exempt” status that is available only to certain CSOs, based on the purposes which they pursue.
According to the Income Tax Law, all CSOs are generally exempt from taxation on donations and grants received, as well as membership dues.
Barriers to Entry
The legal framework applicable to trusts and to “universitas” are generally permissive, but the PVO Act contains several legal barriers relating to establishment and registration.
The PVO Act makes registration mandatory, in that any organization that seeks to carry out work as defined under section 2 of the PVO Act must be registered. Section 6(1)(a) and (b) of the PVO Act reinforce this mandate by providing that “no private voluntary organization shall commence or continue to carry on its activities or seek financial assistance from any source unless it has been registered in respect of a particular object or objects in furtherance of which it is being conducted.” Section 6(2) and (3) of the PVO Act prohibit any individual from serving in the management or control of such an organization with the knowledge that such institution is not registered. For contravening section 6(2) on collection of funds from the public, one is subject to six months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding level five (approximately USD 200) or both; for contravening section 6(3) on managing or controlling an unregistered entity, one is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding level four (approximately USD 100) or both.
The PVO Act provides for complex registration procedures. Once an application has been lodged, the PVO in question must publish in a local paper, at its own expense, a notice as prescribed by the PVO Act calling for persons with objections to lodge them with the Registrar of PVOs within the prescribed time limit (within 21 days of the date of publication). Once the registration papers are lodged with the Registrar of PVOs, who is ordinarily the Director of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the application forms are then submitted to the Private Voluntary Organizations Board (PVOB).
Time period for government review
The Act is silent regarding a time period for the review process.
Grounds for denial
The legal grounds for denial include vague language that is subject to abuse. Specifically, the PVOB may grant or deny the application for registration, if the organization appears unable to abide by the objectives stated in its application or if the constitution and management of the organization fail to comply with the PVO Act. (emphasis added)
Foreign organizations that seek to carry out work in Zimbabwe, and in particular work of a humanitarian nature or whose objectives are covered under the PVO Act, are required to register as such. Most international organizations operate as PVOs and are supposed to have a direct memorandum of understanding (MoU) or cooperation with the Government (usually at both national and local levels.) Section 3 of the General Notice 99/2007 requires an international organization to file its application with the Registrar of PVOs. The application documents must include curriculum vitae and an Interpol or local police clearance certificate for the country representative, among other requirements.
Barriers to Operational Activity
The PVO Act contains a number of barriers to operational activity, as detailed below.
Interference in Internal Governance
If the Minister believes that a PVO has failed to comply with its objectives or constitution, has been subject to maladministration, or has engaged in illegal activities, or that “it is necessary or desirable to do so in the public interest,” the Minister through notice in a government gazette may suspend all or any of the members of the Executive Committee of the PVO. The Minister may also amend or revoke any suspension. [PVO Act, Section 21] The suspension shall of course result in a vacancy on the Executive Committee of the PVO; if thirty days expire and the suspension is not lifted, an election will be called based on the constitution of the PVO. [PVO Act, Section 21(3)] If the entire executive committee has been suspended, a trustee (curator) may be appointed to manage the PVO for sixty days (60) or upon filling of the vacancies of the Executive Committee, whichever comes first. [PVO Act, Section 22] According to Section 7 of GN99/2007, the Registrar is the supervising authority of all PVOs in terms of the developmental impact of programs and monitoring of the organizations’ corporate governance. The monitoring entails field visits by social service officers to project areas, analysis of submitted annual narrative reports and audited financial statements.
The Minister is authorized to send inspectors to examine the accounts and any documents of any PVO. Once a notice has been delivered to the PVO, the PVO is expected to comply by providing all required information. The documents that are effectively seized by virtue of the notice can be kept for a “reasonable period”. [PVO Act, Section 20] The reports that should be submitted to the State inspector include “any aspect of the affairs or activities of any private voluntary organization,” and the inspector has the right “to examine books, accounts and any other documents that relate to the financial affairs.” The reports must be submitted to the Registrar; in the past, however, few organizations have complied with this requirement and there has been no enforcement against PVOs per se, but rather against organizations deemed to be political (even if not PVOs).
The PVO Act provides for sanctions in the event of the PVO failing to abide by provisions of the Act. Offences under the PVO Act include raising funds as an unregistered organisation; being an office bearer despite having been convicted for more than 5 years for a crime involving dishonesty; and the failure to provide information as requested by an inspection officer. Available sanctions include fines, imprisonment or both, cancellation of the registration, suspension of board members and/or dismissal.
It is not uncommon in Zimbabwe for the Government to disrupt the activity of CSOs, especially in the lead up to elections or during humanitarian crises. State interference may take the form of repeated requests for information or threatened suspension of activity. For example, in June 2008, the Government sought a blanket suspension of all PVOs engaged in humanitarian work, causing disruption of food aid and assistance to persons in need, including people living with HIV/AIDs (PLWHA) and orphans. In addition, in 2011, a provincial governor summoned field monitors to a meeting at his offices where he said that "the environment has to be cleared" before national elections can be held. Later in February 2012, when NGOs did not sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the governor or hand in copies of their trust deeds and constitutions to the governor's office, the governor suspended 29 international and local NGOs in the province. Some foreign organizations operating in Zimbabwe have had their operations suspended by the Government of Zimbabwe under the guise of rooting out organizations involved in political activity through partisan distribution of relief.
The establishment of government sponsored NGOs, or GONGOs, has become prevalent since 2000. Such entities include associations of workers, students, doctors, teachers, and NGOs. These government-sponsored NGOs have contributed to mixed messaging in respect to the operating environment of NGOs and the general human rights situation in the country.
Arbitrary Requirements and Fees Imposed on NGOs
Some NGOs are forced to pay exorbitant fees by local authorities in order to carry out their work. Local authorities charge NGOs amounts ranging from US$100, US$300 and up to US$1,000 per year in order to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the local authorities. Where an organization refuses to pay the amount, no MoU is granted and the NGO's activities are not allowed to proceed. This practice is alleged to have the approval of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development. Significantly, however, there is no legal requirement for NGOs to conclude MoUs with local authorities.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Zimbabwean law – and the selective application of that law – places severe restrictions on speech and advocacy activity, especially where the speech or advocacy is critical of government policy or focused on politically unpopular causes. Organizations that engage in advocacy find themselves operating within a landmine of laws which hinder free expression. The potential state response to CSO advocacy can include arrests, raids, threats and malicious prosecution. Advocacy materials, publications and opinions are all prepared and published with due regard to these laws and potential sanctions.
The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Criminal Code), for example, criminalize the insulting of the office or person of the President [Criminal Code Section 33], uttering words which are likely to undermine policing authority [Criminal Code Section 177], and communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state [Section 31 Criminal Code]. In practice, many individuals have been arrested and prosecuted under these laws. Such laws cause individuals and organisations to censor themselves or engage in selective and thorough reviews before placing any information in the public domain.
As but one example, the Government targeted Amani Trust for its involvement in high-level advocacy and its critique of the Government’s human rights record. In August 2002, Dr Francis Lovemore, medical director of Amani Trust was arrested on allegations that the Trust was guilty under POSA of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state.” The arrest stemmed from press reports which referred to Amani Trust’s work with victims of torture and politically motivated rape. The offices of Amani Trust were raided and searched by police. Dr Lovemore was released without charge. Then, in November 2002, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs published a list of CSOs which were alleged to be a threat to peace and security in Zimbabwe. Amani Trust appeared on the Minister’s list and was reportedly accused of working with the British Government to unseat President Robert Mugabe and destabilize the nation. That same month, the Trust closed its offices following the Government’s decision to criminalize the non-registration of NGOs under the PVO Act.
For purposes of holding meetings in public spaces, the State expects CSOs to submit letters of notification of intent to hold such meetings; notification, however, has been interpreted to mean actual application. [Section 24 of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).] However this only applies to meetings to which the public is invited. Meetings by CSOs in public spaces but for their membership in which the topic of discussion is not politics are exempt from such notification. Police have continued to fail to distinguish between public gatherings and those that are exempt.
Barriers to International Contact
CSOs do not suffer from legal barriers restricting contact and cooperation either domestically or internationally. Many CSOs cooperate through networks, associations and unions, both within and outside the country. There are no legal restrictions relating to Internet access, although the law does allow the State to intercept such communications (through the Interception of Communications Act).
The State has in some instances used the immigration authorities at the various ports of entry to bar or restrict CSO’s foreign contacts. Notable examples are the systematic arrests and deportations of human rights defenders. Indeed, in 2005, the State toyed with the idea of introducing ‘exit visas’; this proposal has been shelved for the time being. The idea then was to give the state the power to bar certain individuals it accused of going beyond borders to spread falsehoods about the socio-political situation of the country. This was mainly targeted at CSOs and members of the then-opposition MDC.
There have been instances when targeted politicians and members of CSOs had their passports confiscated or when the State simply refused to issue new ones or renew expired ones, in order to ensure that the targeted individuals did not leave Zimbabwe.
Barriers to Resources
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act (ZEC Act) prohibits the receipt of foreign funding for conducting voter education. Section 16 provides that “No foreign contribution or donation for the purposes of voter education shall be made except to the Commission, which may allocate such contribution or donation to any person referred to in section 14(3) or subsection 15(1).” Other than this specific prohibition, there are no legal limitations more broadly limiting the ability of CSOs to obtain funding from any particular source. But there are a number of constraints that have arisen in practice.
First, and most commonly, the Government of Zimbabwe has attacked PVOs that receive foreign funding as instruments used by the West to undermine the State. Government criticism of such PVOs has created a hostile atmosphere surrounding civil society, and especially those organizations that receive foreign funding.
Second, the Government has effectively ‘stolen’ funding from CSOs – that is, funds from CSOs, located in the Reserve Bank, and allocated for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis – and used those funds for governmental purposes.
The PVO Act is silent on investment and on generating income through economic activity. In practice, CSOs generate income in a variety of ways, such as selling publications at nominal costs and through consultancies for fees. It is expected, however, that funds generated from economic activity be used for the non-profit purposes of the CSO. [PVO Act, Section 10]
Barriers to Assembly
Section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that:
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right not to assemble and associate with others.
(2) No person may be compelled to belong to an association or to attend a meeting or gathering.
Section 59 of the Constitution also states that “Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.”
Other laws regulating assemblies include:
- Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which regulates public gatherings, demonstrations, and marches;
- Section 37 of Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which criminalizes public gatherings that cause or are likely to cause the breach of peace; and
- Protected Areas and Places Act.
Notification is required in cases of “public gatherings” but not private meetings. Section 2 of POSA defines a public gathering as being composed of more than 15 people and conducted in a public place or involving a meeting where the public is allowed to attend. Meetings that are held in a private place do not qualify as “public gatherings.” Section 25 of POSA provides that if there is a public gathering, written notice must be provided to the police five days in advance or seven days for a demonstration or procession. During election season, the period of notice is reduced to three days.
The police, however, often "misinterpret" these provisions and harass members of opposition political parties and civil society activists who hold private meetings by requiring that they notify the police every time they want to hold a meeting even if it does not constitute a public gathering.
In addition, although the authorities must respond to a notification request, there are no clear timeframes written in the law. It is never clear whether or not the police will invoke the provisions of POSA to prohibit assemblies when the police are not notified.
Section 27 of POSA prohibits assemblies within 20 meters of Parliament, 100 meters from the vicinity of the Supreme Court, and 100 meters from areas that are protected under the Protected Areas and Places Act.
According to Section 37(c)(ii) of the Criminal Code, “any person participating in a public gathering who performs any action, utters any words, distributes any writing, sign or other visible representation that is obscene, threatening or abusive or breaching the peace may be found guilty and liable to a fine or a prison term of 5 years.”
In addition, Section 19 of POSA provides for imprisonment of up to 10 years for a person “performing any action, uttering any words or distributing any writing, sign or other visible representation that is obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting, intending thereby to provoke a breach of the peace or realizing that there is a risk or possibility that a breach of the peace may be provoked.” As with the Criminal Code, this language is vague and allows excessive government discretion to criminalize the behavior of participants in an assembly that is protected under international law.
Lack of Police Protection and Excessive Police Force
Only participants that are affiliated with the ruling ZANU PF party normally receive police protection during assemblies. Participants in assemblies that are viewed as not being sympathetic to the ruling party are not guaranteed protection from the police.
Excessive police force is commonly used against assemblies that are considered unsympathetic to the ruling party. One of the most notable incidents of excessive police force occurred in April 2011 in the case of State v Pastor Paul Yesah and 13 Others, when police officers broke up a prayer service organized by CSOs and arrested 14 people who were part of the congregation. During this arrest, anti-riot police indiscriminately fired tear gas canisters at the residences and churches surrounding the venue of the service. The participants were detained and at least five of them were tortured. Thirteen (13) of the arrested individuals were eventually released after several days, but only one person was charged with an offense.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Not available|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Zimbabwe|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not available|
|U.S. State Department||2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2009: Zimbabwe
|Fragile States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 2014|
|IMF Country Reports||Zimbabwe and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||ICJ: Zimbabwe|
|Human Rights Watch Report||Sleight of Hand: Repression of the Media and the Illusion of Reform in Zimbabwe 2010|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Zimbabwe|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
Human rights lawyers concerned about Dzamara's continued disappearance (March 2015)
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expressed concern over the mystery surrounding Itai Dzamara's whereabouts. Dzamara, a former journalist who turned civil rights activist, was abducted by unknown men from a Harare suburb in early March while having a haircut. ZLHR recently applied to the High Court for the state to avail Dzamara. The court granted an order that obliges the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to work closely with lawyers appointed by ZLHR to search for Dzamara and to report progress of the search to the Registrar of the High Court by 1600hours every other Friday up to the time he is found.
Group Remembers Victims of Chiadzwa Crackdown (November 2014)
The Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) says the government should set up a commission of inquiry to probe human rights abuses perpetrated by state security agents in Chiadzwa. Farai Maguwu, the director of CNRG, said President Robert Mugabe's government should not pretend that nothing happened during Operation Hakudzokwi which was meant to flush out illegal diamond diggers. At least 200 people are estimated to have died during the violent crackdown on the diamond diggers in 2008. The government has never acknowledged the rights violations.
Zimbabwe court says Robert Mugabe 'insult law' invalid (October 2013)
Zimbabwe's highest court has declared unconstitutional a law which makes it a crime to insult the president. Prosecutors should not be overzealous about charging people who comment about President Robert Mugabe "in drinking halls and other social places", the Constitutional Court said.
Demonstrators Assaulted during International Day of Peace Event (September 2013)
Peaceful demonstrators from the civic group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were brutality assaulted on September 21. This came on a day meant to commemorate the International Day of Peace, which is celebrated throughout the world on September 21. WOZA’s demonstration, which took place outside parliament in Harare, was held under the banner of “Peace Must Deliver Freedom and Development for All,” a reminder to Zimbabwe’s elected officials that much work needs to be done to improve the country’s lack of adherence to both domestic and international legal obligations. WOZA members intended to deliver a list of demands in accordance with newly enshrined principles in Zimbabwe’s constitution, including the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and free expression.
Uncomfortable Questions For Zimbabwe Civil Society (September 2013)
The next five years are going to be defining for civil society. This phase will test the capacity of civil society to self-reform and adapt to the new political climate. It will also stretch civil society beyond the boundaries of luxury that the sector has enjoyed for some time. Only those civil society organisations, able to strategically re-align themselves to the new terrain and pursue internal reformation, that will survive this coming period.
Zimbabwe elections 'must be held by 31 July' (June 2013)
Zimbabwe's highest court has ruled that presidential and parliamentary elections must be held by 31 July. The Constitutional Court said President Robert Mugabe should set a date "as soon as possible".
Government urged to harness CSOs and private partnerships for development (May 2013)
A leading economist, Prosper Chitambara, has urged that there is a need to strengthen institutional structures between government, the business sector, civil society organizations and labor to enhance social dialogue and development in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe 'bars' EU and US from observing polls (March 2013)
Zimbabwe says it is not inviting Western observers to the constitutional referendum and elections due this year. Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told the state-owned Herald newspaper that EU and US observers lacked objectivity. Zimbabwe is due to hold a referendum on 16 March on a constitution that will limit presidential powers.
Zimbabwe must respect fundamental freedoms in run-up to constitutional referendum (February 2013)
Three United Nations Special Rapporteurs urged the Government of Zimbabwe to respect international human rights norms and standards pertaining to freedoms of association, of peaceful assembly and of expression in the run up to the constitutional referendum on 16 March and subsequent elections which may take place next July.
Masvingo governor threatens NGOs (February 2013)
Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke revived his onslaught against NGOs and threatened to eject NGOs found meddling in political issues. Maluleke caused an international storm in 2012 after he banned 29 humanitarian organisations from the province accusing them of pursuing a political agenda and refusing to register their activities with his office. This year, Maluleke allegedly ordered 43 of the NGOs to present reports of activities they carried out last year.
Civil society ‘under siege’ as police raid youth offices in Bulawayo (February 2013)
Initially 40 people were detained on Monday but were later released, leaving Brilliant Goboza and Ray Ncube in detainment. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights information officer, Kumbirai Mafunda, said the two were released on Wednesday after their lawyer, Charles Moyo, successfully challenged and convinced the prosecutor that they had not committed a crime, resulting in them being freed before going to court.
Police raid NGO offices (January 2013)
Officers from the police Law and Order section raided the offices of the NGO called ZESN. According to the search warrant that police produced in Harare, the raid was to search for “any subversive material, documents, gadgets or recordings and any illegal immigrants at Number 10 Rochester Road, Belgravia, Harare”. The Cabinet ordered an investigation of the police action, especially as complaints indicated unjustified harassment of civil society organisations (CSOs) by the police. In Masvingo, suspected State agents broke into the ZESN offices and got away with T-shirts and chairs. Attempts to take away a desktop computer failed after an alert security guard tipped police bikers on patrol who got to the scene before the agents had completed ransacking the offices.
Leading Rights Activists Arrested in Zimbabwe (January 2013)
According to the Voice of America Zimbabwe, the director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Okay Machisa, was arrested in Harare for allegedly publishing false and misleading information related to the country's voter roll. Machisa is a participant in the World Movement for Democracy and attended the Seventh Assembly in Lima, Peru in October 2012, where he co-organized a workshop on defending civil society: "How to Work in Legally Repressive Environments?" In a statement denouncing Machisa's arrest, the RFK Center writes that "Political violence, human rights abuses, and intimidation against civil society activists are nothing new in the lead up to Zimbabwean elections. During the nation's previous election cycle in 2008, when President Robert Mugabe's hold on the presidency was threatened by voters, more than 300 members from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were reportedly killed, and countless more civic activists were abducted, tortured, and disappeared by the police, security forces, and associated militias."
UN condemns attacks on human rights defenders ahead of elections (January 2013)
Citing arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment, the United Nations human rights arm today condemned recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe ahead of elections expected later this year. “We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe’s rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said at a briefing in Geneva.
Zimbabwe targets human rights activists (November 2012)
Zimbabwe has used laws and beatings by security forces to suppress human rights activists ahead of elections planned for next year, according to a report released Monday. A report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders comes as President Robert Mugabe is pushing for constitutional amendments that will allow for elections to end his ZANU-PF party's uneasy coalition government with the nation's main opposition party. That has some worried that Zimbabwe could experience the same repression and violence seen in its 2008 election, in which at least 163 people were killed and some 5,000 were tortured or beaten.
Government discusses funding "hostile" NGOs (November 2012)
Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu said the Government was seriously considering funding non-governmental organizations with interest in diamond mining. Speaking during a review meeting of the Zimbabwe Diamond Conference that was held in Victoria Falls, Minister Mpofu extended an olive branch to hostile NGOs that have been peddling falsehoods about the Chiadzwa diamonds. He said leaving them to hostile nations was harmful to national interests. “Why should a Zimbabwean be funded and supported by a foreigner? If we brought our civil society on board on all issues and prepared a budget for them, I think they would be behaving differently. One who pays the piper calls the tune,” Minister Mpofu said.
Civil society in save Constitution campaign (November 2012)
Zimbabwe's civil society organisations have appealed to the three Global Political Agreement (GPA) principals to allow Parliament to complete the crafting of the new constitution amid insistence by President Robert Mugabe that only he will have the final say on new supreme law of the land. The director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a grouping of more than 300 local civil society organisations, said the fact that President Mugabe in particular wanted to have a final say on the draft was a betrayal of the aspirations of Zimbabweans.
Civil society organizations meet to discuss draft constitution (October 2012)
Over 300 delegates from different sectors of Civil Society in the country gathered in Harare for a two day leaders "indaba," which was aimed at coming up with a common position on the COPAC draft. The indaba also provides CSOs with a platform to analyze the COPAC draft constitution.
EU: Zimbabwe sanctions stay until elections (July 2012)
The European Union says it will suspend targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe's leadership if the African nation holds credible elections. Along with other Western countries, the 27-member confederation imposed sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party leadership in 2002, following reports of human-rights abuses. The EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, said ministers meeting in Brussels are encouraged by Zimbabwe's unity government reforms in recent years.
NGO’S crackdown continues as Chikomo's trial commences (July 2012)
The trial of Abel Chikomo, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, is scheduled to commence at the Harare Magistrates Court on Wednesday July 25, 2012. The charges against Chikomo are for running an “unregistered” organization. Chikomo was served with a summons by two police officers only identified as Sergeant Ndawana and Detective Chipwanya to stand trial at the Harare Magistrates Court.
Reports say EU planning Zimbabwe sanctions lift (July 2012)
The European Union (EU) is facing criticism for reportedly planning to lift the targeted sanctions still in place against the Robert Mugabe regime, despite ongoing human rights concerns. The measures were put in place because of ZANU PF-led human rights violations and other actions that have plunged Zimbabwe into chaos, including vote rigging. Described as 'shopping sanctions', the restrictive measures have been placed specifically on Mugabe and key members of his regime, with the EU previously arguing that significant progress in Zimbabwe needs to be seen before the measures can be lifted. But it has been reported this week that the EU is now planning to go ahead and have the measures removed despite what human rights group and observers have called a lack of real change.
Scores of protestors arbitrarily detained in Bulawayo (July 2012)
A peaceful demonstration in Bulawayo organized by Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a civic movement that defends women’s rights and freedoms in Zimbabwe, has been repressed by the authorities. The clampdown led to the arrest and subsequent release of 101 of its members, including Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu.
Human rights NGO shut down for running ‘illegal’ organization (July 2012)
The executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Abel Chikomo, has been charged by the police for allegedly running an ‘illegal’ organization. Chairperson of the Forum, Irene Petras, said this latest move by the police was just the start of a planned clampdown against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe. Petras, a lawyer by profession, said that the Forum is operating entirely in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe, adding that it was difficult to understand why they were continuously harassing Chikomo.
Zimbabwe's constitutional process drags on (June 2012)
Constitution drafters from Zimbabwe's rival political parties are combing through hundreds of points of contention, an exercise that is deepening the uncertainty over the country's future. Officials crafting the constiution are reviewing more than 200 issues.
Violations persist as UN Chief visits (May 2012)
Hon. Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC Spokesperson, has said the visit by the United Nations (UN) Commissioner for Human Rights, Madam Mavi Pillay, comes at a very appropriate time and is a welcome development. Ms. Pillay arrived in Zimbabwe on a five-day official visit to assess the human rights situation. "The objective of the visit should be to assess the human rights situation in the country that involves the Commissioner interacting with all concerned. Unfortunately, her visit has been monopolised by Zanu PF and we have seen a situation where civil society and ordinary Zimbabweans have effectively been denied the right to interact with Madam Pillay," Hon. Mwonzora said.
Civil society groups present conflicting reports (May 2012)
Western-sponsored civil society organisations yesterday presented a damning report on alleged gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe to visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai endorsed the allegations in a meeting with Ms. Pillay at his Charter House offices in the afternoon.
U.N. Rights Commissioner due in Zimbabwe to assess situation (May 2012)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is due in Zimbabwe for a five-day tour following an invitation by the power-sharing government. While political violence has eased over the past two years, civic groups criticize President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party, which controls state security, for failing to stem human right abuses. Observers say the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee, set to quell tensions and respond to political clashes around the country, has not been effective.
15 members of opposition political party arrested under Public Order and Security Act (March 2012)
Zimbabwe police arrested 15 members of the MDC party. They will be charged under the widely-condemned Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Police have over the years been accused of using POSA to target MDC politicians and civil society groups critical of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, whose members are rarely subjected under the law. Political analyst Nkululeko Sibanda commented that the MDC arrests were an indication that free political activity remains a mirage in the country.
Government fails Human Rights test (October 2011)
West Using NGOs to Fan Instability, Says Minister (October 2011)
Zimbabwe's CSO’s launch advocacy charter at UN human rights council (September 2011)
Chiefs want NGOs back (July 2011)
Zimbabwe rights groups protest crackdown (May 2011)
Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End? (April 2011)
Free Activists Charged for Viewing Mideast Video (February 2011)
Government to Summon NGOs (July 2010)
Copac Slams NGOs (July 2010)
VP Mujuru Warns NGOs (May 2010)
ZIMBABWE: EU imposes another year of sanctions (February 2010)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Zimbabwe (firstname.lastname@example.org).