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Civic activists slam govt at human rights meeting

Augustine Mukaro in Banjul, Gambia

GOVERNMENT’S efforts to defend its human rights record at the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights meeting in Gambia this week faced stiff resistance from civic

groups who lambasted the state’s unwillingness to uphold basic freedoms.

Justice ministry permanent secretary David Mangota struggled to present a cozy picture of Zimbabwe at the 38th Ordinary session of the ACHPR.

Representatives of local civic groups in Banjul countered Mangota’s claims, prompting the commission to ask the government to respond.

Mangota then blamed the West for sponsoring NGOs to peddle falsehoods about Zimbabwe.

“It is the duty of the donor community to sponsor NGOs to be watchdogs,” Mangota said. “Governments on the other hand must be accountable, but donors have overdone it in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“Of the five youngsters from the NGO sector who made presentations on Zimbabwe, only one comes from Zimbabwe. It’s unfortunate that they continue to feed the commission with old information recycled from 2002,” he said.

Mangota defended Operation Murambatsvina saying the brutal demolition blitz was meant to improve the welfare of disadvantaged groups.

“Government’s Operation Murambatsvina seeks to provide better accommodation to people who were living in destroyed slums and the Constitutional Amendment No 17 was meant to resolve the land question once and for all,” Mangota said.

Contrary to Mangota’s assertion, all NGO representatives who presented papers on the situation in Zimbabwe, except for Amnesty International, were from Zimbabwe.

NGO presentations were made by Wilbert Mandinde of Misa, Abel Chikomo of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, Harrison Nkomo of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and Irene Petras of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

Major highlights of the Misa and MMPZ presentations were on the shrinking space for freedom of expression, continued harassment of journalists and the Media and Information Commission’s refusal to register the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday.

The forum concentrated on government’s failure to implement African Commission recommendations of its July 2002 fact-finding mission while the ZLHR called for the protection of the judiciary and respect for court rulings which government often ignored.

The forum criticised what it called the continued persecution of human rights defenders. It condemned the recent arrest of National Constitutional Assembly and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions leaders for what government described as unlawful demonstrations.

“Recently, members of the ZCTU and NCA have been maliciously, unlawfully and wrongfully detained for engaging in a peaceful demonstration. During the detention the victims were denied access to legal representation and food. The detainees included people living with HIV and Aids,” the forum said.

“We urge the commission to implore the Zimbabwe government to ensure that its domestic legislation is consistent with minimum international standards. The commission should impress on the government the need to ratify and domesticate the convention against torture,” the forum said.

The NGOs are set to make five presentations to the commission’s private sessions.

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