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UN expert urges Zimbabwe to end judicial harassment of education and labour rights defenders

24 May 2023

GENEVA (24 May 2023) – A UN expert today expressed concern about the ongoing legal proceedings against human rights defender Obert Masaraure in Zimbabwe. She called for the charges against him to be dropped and urged authorities to put an end to the pattern of criminalisation of education and labour rights defenders.

“Mr. Obert Masaraure has long been targeted in reprisal for his peaceful work in defence of the labour rights of teachers, educators, and all those who seek to uphold the fundamental right to education in Zimbabwe,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor said.

Mr. Obert Masaraure is the National President of the Amalgamated Rural Teacher's Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), a registered union that works in rural areas to defend the rights of educators and teachers. He was first charged in 2019 with “subverting a constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence”. Since January 2022, Mr. Masaraure has faced multiple arrests and charges, including participation in a protest, alleged murder, and public incitement to violence, while being released on strict bail conditions. After several postponements, he is due to stand trial on 29 May 2023 on charges related to national security, includingpublic incitement to violence and obstruction of justice. A hearing on the murder charge is scheduled for 31 May 2023.

The expert said she had witnessed what appeared to be “a systematic targeting of human rights defenders from ARTUZ” who were working to promote the right to education and the right to an adequate standard of living for educators in rural areas of Zimbabwe.

“Since I took office in 2020, I have heard numerous allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and ill-treatment by police officers against human rights defenders working to protect labour rights,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern that such targeting may be an attempt to deter others from standing up and peacefully assembling for the right to education in the country.

“I am hoping to see the charges against Mr. Obert Masaraure dropped and urge the Government of Zimbabwe to promote a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders,” Lawlor said.

The UN expert has raised her concerns with the Government of Zimbabwe and will continue to monitor the situation.


Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland)Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

*Endorsed by: Ms. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Ms. Fionnuala Ní AoláinSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and Ms. Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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