Jean-Jacques Cornish and Nazeem Dramat
SOUTH African Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma backed Zimbabwean government moves to stifle an explosive report on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe at the African
Union summit in Addis Ababa.
At the same time, there is mounting evidence that Zimbabwean Foreign minister Stan Mudenge was wrong to claim his government had not seen or had a chance to respond to the report, prepared by the AU’s Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
Summit sources said at a meeting of African foreign ministers last weekend, Dlamini-Zuma had stepped up to the plate for Mudenge when he angrily insisted that the report be suppressed before it reached the assembly of AU heads of state, as his government had not seen it.
She later told the Mail & Guardian it had been agreed to hold the report until Zimbabwe could comment. It would not be correct to circulate the document – which also covered other countries – without the official reaction of those states.
Mudenge’s claim began to look threadbare this week. One of the report’s authors, South African churchman and academic Barney Pityana, said he could not believe the report had not been made available to President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Pityana pointed out that he and the senior vice-chairperson of the ACHPR, Gambian Jainaba Johm, had finalised the report in 2002. The commission’s practice was to present its findings to the relevant African state as soon as they were completed.
He said he was proud of the report’s even-handedness.
This chimed with the Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube’s, criticism of the AU’s apparent decision to back away from tackling the report during the summit. The Zimbabwean government had had the report for two years, Ncube insisted.
In addition, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said the Zimbabwean government was given a copy of the report in February this year.
And a senior Sadc delegate told the M&G: “If the Zimbabweans arrived here ignorant of the report, they were the only delegation in that position. We have reason to believe the report reached Harare at least six months ago.”
Zimbabwe has agreed to react to the report within seven days.
To the chagrin of the AU’s heads of state, Mugabe’s run-in with the fledgling organisation dominated its third summit in the Ethiopian capital. They had wanted to concentrate on the mission, vision and strategy presented by the AU commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare, and avoid dealing with the Zimbabwean president, as they had managed to do at previous summits.
But when the ACHPR’s findings found their way into the public domain a week ago, their options ran out.
The normally soft-spoken Mudenge went ballistic when the report was presented to African foreign ministers in the executive council. He warned that if it was not stifled in that forum, it would overshadow everything else in the assembly of heads of state.
“It’s just a question of where the blood flows, here or in the summit,” he is said to have told the council.
Mudenge was apparently pulled up for his threatening behaviour by Nigeria’s Foreign minister Oluyemi Adentji, who was chairing the meeting. Adentji was disinclined simply to throw the matter out at Mudenge’s behest.
But in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the council accepted Mudenge’s word that the ACHPR accusations came as a surprise to his government.
Asked how long he would need to reply, Mudenge said: “Once we have studied it – no more than seven days.”
He then attempted to mollify his peers by thanking the AU for helping to “recover more than 11-million hectares of stolen land without paying one cent”.
For this he was rewarded with a round of applause. But the foreignministers were having none of his appeal to shelvethe report – not even when Dlamini-Zuma climbed into the ring to support him.
The report relates to events after the Zimbabwe presidential election in 2002. It was not presented to last year’s summit in Maputo ostensibly because it was not translated into French. “It has been out there a long time and it simply cannot be hidden away any longer,” commented one delegate.
The council thus “noted” the report. It also noted that mission reports on specific countries – without naming Zimbabwe – were circulated without comment by the states concerned. It urged the commission to see that this did not happen again.
The ACHPR mission that visited Zimbabwe in June 2002, significantly found that “the land question is not in itself the cause of division”.
“It appears that at heart is a society in search of the means for change and divided about how best to achieve change after two decades of dominance by a political party that carried hopes and aspiration of the people of Zimbabwe through the liberation struggle into Independence.
“The land question is critical and Zimbabweans sooner or later need to address it …(But) there was enough evidence placed before the mission to suggest that, at the very least during the period under review, human rights violations occurred in Zimbabwe.
“The mission was presented with testimony from witnesses who were victims of political violence and others victims of torture while in police custody.
“There was evidence that the system of arbitrary arrests took place. Especially alarming was the arrest of the President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe Sternford Moyo and journalists, including Peta Thornycroft, Geoffrey Nyarota, among many others, the arrests and torture of opposition members of parliament and human rights lawyers like Gabriel Shumba.
“There were allegations that the human rights violations that occurred were in many instances at the hands of Zanu PF party activists.”
The report added, however, that the mission had not been able to find definitively that the abuses were part of an orchestrated policy of the Zimbabwe government.
“There were enough assurances from the head of state, cabinet ministers and the leadership of the ruling party that there has never been any plan or policy of violence, disruption or any form of human rights violations, orchestrated by the state. There was also an acknowledgement that excesses did occur.”
At the same time, the commission said it was “prepared and able to rule” that the government could not wash its hands of responsibility.
“Government did not act soon enough and firmly enough against those guilty of gross criminal acts. By its statements and political rhetoric and by its failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law, the government failed to chart a path that signalled commitment to the rule of law.” -Mail & Guardian.