Zim needs friends, not

more enemies

ZIMBABWE’S Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge this week led the charge which forced the African Union to defer discussion of a report condemning the country’s poor human rights record.

He was joined in his frenzied attack on the report of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) by Information minister Jonathan Moyo who was quick to identify the authors of the report as his usual objects of scorn — Amani Trust and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

African leaders who gathered in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this week for the African Union summit had hoped to avoid discussing Zimbabwe in order to focus on strengthening the young continental body. But Mudenge’s run-in with fellow foreign ministers dominated proceedings.

Mudenge said the report was unpalatable because it had been leaked to the “apartheid press” before Zimbabwe was given the opportunity to defend herself.

Mudenge also asserted the commission did not observe protocol as it allegedly sent the report to the Ministry of Justice and not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A statement by the Human Rights NGO Forum on Tuesday however pointed out that all necessary procedures were observed and Zimbabwe had ample time to prepare its defence since the report was delivered to Harare in February.

Mudenge also claimed that the commissioners had ignored the fact that land was at the core of Zimbabwe’s problems as agreed at the Abuja meeting organised by the Commonwealth in September 2002. But we all know that in Zanu PF’s eyes the Commonwealth is an “evil” and “racist” organisation.

“We shall never go back to this evil organisation,” President Mugabe thundered during Independence celebrations in Harare in April.

The Abuja communiqué of the “evil” organisation is now Mudenge’s citation in trying to devise a defence for Mugabe’s tainted regime.

In his quest to seek approval from his master, Mudenge, as has become the hallmark of his diplomacy, is clutching at technical straws to rubbish the African Commission’s report, which merely repeated something as visible as daylight.

Mudenge and Moyo’s beef with the report is clearly not the alleged technical aberrations in its tabling, but its contents which if discussed publicly would have deeply embarrassed Mugabe in Addis Ababa.

The ACHPR mission, led by Jainaba Johm of Gambia, after perusing 20 kg of evidence collected during their June 2002 visit to Zimbabwe, rightly concluded that: “Zimbabwe needs assistance to withdraw from the precipice. The country is in need of mediators and reconcilers. The media needs to be freed from the shackles of control to voice opinions and reflect societal beliefs freely. The independence of the judiciary should be assured in practice and judicial orders must be obeyed.”

International rights groups such as Amnesty International, Amani Trust, Human Rights Watch and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, have since 2000 highlighted incidents of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe but have been crudely dismissed by government as oppositional forces sponsored by the British to discredit the infallible Mugabe.

When the ACHPR mission came to Zimbabwe in 2002, it was lauded by state officials for taking the bold move which government hoped would clear Zimbabwe’s soiled record. The thinking was that this was an African mission, which was supposed to take its cue from African observer groups, who had endorsed Mugabe’s re-election as president three months earlier.

According to Article 31 of its founding charter, the commission is supposed to be manned by “African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of human and people’s rights…”

They have now become “Blair’s emissaries” because they refused to sing from Mugabe’s fading hymn sheet.

While Mudenge this week succeeded is scuttling debate on the report, that act does not obliterate Zimbabwe’s human rights record as captured by an African human rights commission which was on the ground to do its own investigation.

But the AU, which is out with the begging bowl in the quest to set up its secretariat and vital organs like the peacekeeping force, has remained encrusted in totalitarian mode. Human rights are a secondary issue. That is why the ACHPR does not have the power to censure errant regimes. That also explains why the commission is poorly funded and not taken seriously.

But if the AU is to be taken seriously, then it has to denounce abuses perpetrated by African governments against their own people instead of creating laagers with despots in the face of criticism. They should take heed of the commission’s advice. Zimbabwe needs assistance to withdraw from the precipice and not cheerleaders for the prevailing autocracy.

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