Our Voices

Zimbabwe: Repeal the “Patriotic Act” to Respect Fundamental Human Rights

The undersigned organizations express our grave concerns with the recent introduction of “patriotic” offenses in Zimbabwe. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act, 2023 (the so-called “Patriotic Act”), enacted on July 14, 2023, introduced overly broad and draconian offenses of “[wilfully] injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”. The provisions amount to gross violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association and the right to a remedy, which are not necessary or justifiable in a democratic society. Furthermore, the enactment of these provisions ahead of Zimbabwe’s August 2023 elections, undermines the ability of Zimbabweans to engage in a free and fair process.

The new provisions criminalize Zimbabweans’ active participation in meetings with foreign governments (or their agents), that relate to: military or armed intervention in Zimbabwe; subverting, overthrowing, or overturning the constitutional government in Zimbabwe; or the implementation or enlargement of sanctions or trade boycotts against Zimbabwe, including individual sanctions if they indiscriminately affect the people of Zimbabwe as a whole or any substantial section of it. Such offenses are overly broad and not clearly defined, violating the principles of legality. It will not be possible for Zimbabweans to determine what conduct will constitute a violation and will allow for indiscriminate targeting of perceived dissidents.

The new offenses carry extremely grave penalties, including death penalty and life imprisonment. Additional penalties include termination of citizenship or permanent residence, and suspensions from voting and holding public office. These penalties are grossly disproportionate to the stated aim of protecting the sovereignty, dignity and independence of the nation, which could be pursued by less drastic measures that do not violate fundamental rights.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed its concerns that the Act “risks being used to target, criminalize and weaken civil society”. Indeed, the Act will have wide-reaching consequences for civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders, who may be targeted under the Act for legitimate engagements with foreign diplomats and foreign funding partners. The Act also criminalizes Zimbabwean CSOs and human rights defenders from criticizing their government at international fora, prohibiting them from seeking external avenues for accountability for human rights violations. This will further isolate Zimbabwe from the international community, in contradiction to the government’s stated re-engagement agenda.

In light of these concerns, the undersigned organizations call for the Zimbabwean authorities to urgently repeal the “patriotic” provisions, to respect the fundamental human rights of its citizens and residents in the tense pre-electoral period, and to refrain from enacting additional legislation that may further restrict the work and rights of Zimbabwean CSOs and human rights defenders, such as the restrictive Private Voluntary Organisations (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that is currently awaiting signature by the President.


  • Adapt International Organization (AIO) Human Rights Defenders

  • AfricanDefenders

  • African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)

  • African Election Observers Network (AfEONet)

  • Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM-Africa)

  • Civic Advisory Hub (CAH)

  • Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO-Ethiopia)

  • Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

  • DefendDefenders

  • DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights

  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

  • Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network