Letter to the Editor
These emails belong to the UNICEF Officals in Harare .Why not write to them expressing your views on their attack on Dzamara kids? Or attach the letter below, Please share and encourage your friends to write to them.
email@example.com (current acting rep),
firstname.lastname@example.org (Communications boss)
email@example.com (Communications specialist at UNICEF and daughter of Prisca Mupfumira)
We can also add:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Unesco Reg Director)
email@example.com (Head of UNDP and UN Resident Coordinator)
No To Double-Standards And Selective Application Of The Law
I write to you as a citizen of Zimbabwe who is both concerned and alarmed by the conduct of your Zimbabwe office (UNICEF Zimbabwe) in recent days. Since the facts giving rise to this concern may be unfamiliar to you, I must begin by setting them out in a brief, but hopefully, clear summary.
On Saturday 13 August 2016, UNICEF Zimbabwe issued a statement in which it condemned the alleged use of children to pursue political causes. This condemnation was in reference to a commemoration event at which the children of Itai Dzamara and his relatives’ children were present. This event was, I understand, convened by Itai Dzamara’s family to mark the anniversary of his disappearance. Itai Dzamara is a political activist who was abducted near his home on 9 March 2015 and has never been accounted for since that day. His abductors are not known but it is widely suspected they were agents of the state. Prior to his disappearance, Dzamara was leading a protest against President Mugabe, calling among other things, for him to step down citing failure of his government. His disappearance has caused his family serious anguish, particularly as the state has shown little enthusiasm and energy to investigate the matter.
On the occasion of his birthday, which fell close to the anniversary of his abduction and disappearance, Itai Dzamara’s friends and family got together in solidarity at Africa Unity Square, the scene of his political activities before his widely reported abduction and disappearance. Notwithstanding police’s lukewarm approach to investigations into his abduction and disappearance, members of the anti-riot police were in attendance near this family event.
The Government of Zimbabwe, the ruling party and state media condemned the presence of children at this event. In their view, the children were being used for a political purpose. It was against this background that UNICEF waded in and issued a statement condemning the use of children to support political causes, arguing that it was not in the best interests of children to expose them to politically-charged situations.
Taken in abstract, without the contextual nuances of the matter, an observer who is unfamiliar with the context and facts of the matter might find nothing amiss with UNICEF’s statement. Indeed, it would sound reasonable and fair. The position that children should be protected from political protests is trite. It is consistent with international law and indeed, is in sync with our own national Constitution, which gives priority to the best interests of children. However, as in all situations, it is fundamental to understand the facts and context of any situation. The Dzamara family are not pursuing a political cause. Dzamara is a son, a father, a husband and brother who is dearly loved and missed by his relatives. This was an occasion for them to stand in solidarity, to keep his name alive, to find answers, hoping that one day he will return. They are entitled to express themselves as they wish. The constitution protects their freedom of expression – both adults and children.
The children involved at this event are not random children picked from the street. They are Dzamara’s children, and some are his nephews and nieces – all of whom are family and are directly affected by the abduction and disappearance of their father. There is no-one else, apart from those children and their mother who have had to carry the burden of not knowing where their father is or what happened to him, all this without the support of the state which is required to protect them in terms of the Constitution but has done nothing of substance. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, which joined UNICEF Zimbabwe in condemning their attendance at this event has shown no interest whatsoever in their welfare to date. There is no record of UNICEF Zimbabwe having shown any interest or offered any support to Dzamara’s children, until their statement of condemnation on Saturday.
But the merits or demerits of the children’s presence or participation at this event, which was not in pursuit of a political cause, are not the critical issue. Let us assume for a moment that UNICEF Zimbabwe was right to show concern for Dzamara’s children and other relatives’ children on this occasion. My major bone of contention with UNICEF Zimbabwe is the hypocrisy and double-standards they have shown in their reaction to this case, which has exposed them to charges of partisanship and bias on political grounds. For me and perhaps other fellow Zimbabweans, this is the first time that UNICEF Zimbabwe has vocally and prominently condemned the presence of children at what they considered to be a political event. Yet the reality is that children have on many occasions in the past been used at and for political events by the government and the ruling party. As far as I am aware, there is not a single time that UNICEF Zimbabwe has condemned ZANU PF, the ruling party for using children to advance its political causes. There are various examples:
School children are often bussed in to attend ZANU PF’s political rallies. Thousands of school children, sometimes in uniform, are often seen at ZANU PF political rallies, particularly in the rural areas. I have chosen one picture of one such rally to accompany this letter. When ZANU PF is holding major political events, such as its National Congress, the national school term is forced to end earlier than usual because school facilities, including hostels and classrooms, are used as dormitories by ruling party supporters. When ZANU PF holds political rallies in Harare, schools are forced to supply school buses around the country to transport the party’s supporters to the rallies. Children have been used at political galas, sometimes deep into the night, chanting slogans and profanities against opposition leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai, all in the name of art and poetry. This has been condemned and criticised by civil society and opposition political parties for many years, because it constitutes abuse of children and their facilities and gives the ruling party an unfair advantage. However, I do not recall UNICEF Zimbabwe condemning ZANU PF or calling them to order for using children to advance its political causes. This is wrong.
It is this selective approach to the enforcement of rules, principles and the law which has given me cause to be concerned about UNICEF Zimbabwe’s conduct in the Dzamara matter. I know there are other Zimbabweans who share this concern and have expressed it variously on social media in recent days. The rule of law is a principle we hold in high regard and seek to defend at all times. One of its core principles is that the law must be applied equally to everyone. There should be no selective application of the law. One of the problems we Zimbabweans have complained about consistently against our government is its penchant for selective application of the law. There is one law for ZANU PF and another for everyone else.
Now, I and perhaps fellow Zimbabweans, are gravely concerned when we see an agency of the United Nations reading from the same page as our government in the mutilation of the rule of law. We get concerned when an agency of the United Nations, which is supposed to be politically neutral, fair and balanced, behaves like an organ of the ruling party, selectively applying the law on the protection of children. If indeed, they are convinced that the presence of children at the Dzamara event was wrong, then surely they must demonstrate their sincerity and honesty by condemning the use of children and their facilities at ZANU PF’s political events. If they are incapable of doing that, and they have not shown it so far, they are not only showing political bias but they cannot be regarded as fit for purpose.
As I conclude, let me reassure you that I fully support the protection of children and believe that they should not be used for political purposes. I participated very closely during the writing of the new Constitution and one of the great concerns and indeed achievements of that process was the inclusion of extensive rights protecting children. UNICEF is not teaching Zimbabweans anything new because they voted overwhelmingly for this progressive and child-friendly Constitution on 16 March 2013. But they also voted in favour of the rule of law and against the selective application of the law.
I acknowledge the work that the United Nations and its agencies do in my country, but we expect them to remain apolitical, neutral, unbiased and fair in their treatment of Zimbabwean citizens. We would also like to protect them against being used to fight political battles on behalf of political parties under the guise of some noble cause, such as protecting children. This is why I decided to write this letter, to say, be wary of the reputation of the United Nations and its agencies being unnecessarily soiled by poor and ill-advised judgment of one. It is important that UNICEF Zimbabwe be called to order.