December 10 is International Human Rights Day, when we set aside a moment to consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was completed at the UN 60 years ago. This year we can also consider the 18 human rights activists in Zimbabwe who have disappeared in the last month. One of them, Jestina Mukoko, was abducted from her home at five in the morning last Wednesday.
According to Amnesty International, about a dozen people dressed in plain clothes who told her family they were police officers took her away, not leaving her a moment to get dressed, or find her eye glasses or the medication she must take three times a day. Since then her family has not been able to locate her through the police, who have denied they are holding her.
I met Jestina Mukoko two years ago at the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust. She was working on an innovative peace-building program for ZIMCET, one that brought together political opponents in small towns and cities across Zimbabwe to work together to stop violence that had become so routine during all political elections. One man from Chimanimani we met with said the program had changed his life. “I changed completely, I was a hooligan, beating ZANU-PF people…Sister Jestina taught me I was just beating my brothers and sisters, that we have to sit down and solve problems together.”
“I have thrown away that evil element in my head,” he said.
Since then Jestina Mukoko has been working at the Zimbabwe Peace Project, documenting human rights abuses. Her excellent reports, including one from last week detailing violence against women, have provided hard facts about the widespread violence in Zimbabwe in the lead up to the presidential election last June.
Press reports from Zimbabwe say that two other ZPP workers were abducted this past Monday, and the offices of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights were raided. At the same time, the country is facing a serious cholera epidemic that has killed more than 500 people and the military is showing signs of revolt.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says Jestina Mukoko (and everyone else) has the right to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media.” She and her colleagues and all others being held illegally for doing this must be found and released immediately.