News and Information

Watch it - or else, Zim warns NGOs
July 20, 2004

Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe castigated private charities, religious groups and other aid organisations on Tuesday for interfering in politics and said legislators will be asked to pass a law allowing authorities to close some groups and arrest officials.

Mugabe said a new bill to tighten controls on such organisations will be introduced soon in the 150-member parliament dominated by his ruling party.

"Non-governmental organizations must work for the betterment of our country. We cannot allow them to be used as conduits and instruments of foreign interference," Mugabe said in an address at the opening of parliament.

Mugabe has repeatedly accused Western-funded charities, trusts and church and human rights groups of siding with his opponents and Britain, the former colonial power, in criticising the government for violations of human and democratic rights and of campaigning against him.

'Non-governmental organizations must work for the betterment of our country'
"We remain patently opposed to mutant strains" of colonial era domination, Mugabe told lawmakers. "Colonisers for decades trampled on us. What have they to teach us about human rights?"

The proposed "Non-governmental Organisations and Churches Bill" calls for the registration of all groups and trusts involved in charity work and educational and research programs.

Failure to register and acquire a government license would make it illegal for a group to operate. Staff members of groups that violated the law would face arrest.

The bill requires disclosure of the origins and use of all funds and the identity of foreign donors.

Opponents of the bill have likened it to sweeping media laws passed in 2002 that gave the government the power to close independent media, stifle criticism of its policies and arrest 31
independent journalists.
'What have they to teach us about human rights?'

The only independent daily newspaper, which had become a platform for dissent, was shut down last year after being refused registration.

It also became an offense to work as a journalist without a government-issued license.

The National Association of Non-governmental Organisations, voicing its concerns on the bill earlier this month, said it feared for the autonomy and independence of its 50 members if aspects of their work were criminalised.

It has lobbied against adoption of the bill, calling instead for the formation of a self-regulatory body to enforce a code of ethics that would assuage official concerns over the role of member groups.

It said the bill sought to increase control and surveillance of members, particularly of "some humanitarian and advocacy NGOs believed to be enemies of the state."

Non-governmental groups have produced regular reports on alleged human rights violations that have left more than 200 people dead in political violence and driven tens of thousands from their homes since 2000.

Much of the violence has been blamed on ruling party militants and police and troops since the government launched a program to seize thousands of white-owned farms in 2000.

Independent human rights groups say most of the victims have been opposition supporters.

Charities have also accused the government of using food as a political weapon in recent parliamentary by-elections won by the ruling party.

United Nations food agencies have disputed government claims the country will produce enough food to meet its needs this year, raising fears that secret food imports will be used to influence voters ahead of crucial parliament polls next March.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the country will harvest about half its requirements of about two million tons of staple cereals this year.

Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with soaring prices and unemployment and acute shortages of food, gasoline and essential imports. - Sapa-AP


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