THE Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) has condemned the arrest of Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) in the country and urged government to desist from using the criminal justice system to stifle public participation of rights groups.

In a statement yesterday, Zela said the arrests of EHRDs violated their right to freedom of expression and the right to personal liberties which it said was against United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights.

The Zela statement follows the arrest of 28 villagers from Chiadzwa village under Chief Chiadzwa in Marange who organised a demonstration at Anjin Investments. “The series of arrests and charges that would appear to have external motivations violate people’s rights to freedom of expression and conscience and right to personal liberty,” Zela said.

“With the documented increase in the number of reported cases of corporate human rights abuses, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) offer a normative framework that explores mechanisms to deal with the growing tension between business operations and the resulting adverse human rights impacts.”

Other villagers that were arrested include the deputy chairperson of the Dinde Residents Association, Never Tshuma. Tshuma was also arrested in April last year on allegations of inciting fellow villagers to resist a coal exploration exercise by Chinese investors in the area.

In April this year, Livson Chikutu a community leader from Chilonga in Chiredzi district was arrested for leading local people in opposing the setting up of a lucerne grass farming project in Chilonga, while another EHRD in Hwange reported that he was being monitored by members of the security agencies after opposing a coal-mining project in the area.

“Zimbabwe must domesticate all relevant international instruments to which it is a party together with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which will enhance the domestic protection mechanisms of EHRDs in the conduct of their efforts in protecting the environment,” Zela said.

The lawyers argued that government was weaponising the criminal justice system in order to stifle public participation of EHRDs in economic activities.

Source Newsday