US slams Zim on rights

Itai Mushekwe

ZIMBABWE’S human rights record has been ranked among the worst in the world where political power is concentrated in the hands of rulers who are not accountable for their actions, according to the US State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights P

ractices for 2005.

Zimbabwe is the only African country listed alongside growing autocracies such as North Korea, Burma, Iran, Cuba, China and Belarus that have an appalling human rights record which restricts the fundamental rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion and movement.

In its synopsis of Zimbabwe, the report cites continued muzzling of the private press, government corruption, executive influence and interference in the judiciary, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, and the politicisation of the state security apparatus.

Presenting the report on Wednesday, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who has in the past labelled Zimbabwe an
“outpost of tyranny”, said the US was committed to helping lay the foundation for lasting peace in the world as part of America’s cherished principles.

“How a country treats its own people is a strong indication of how it will behave toward its neighbours,” Rice said. “The growing demand for democratic governance reflects a recognition that the best guarantor of human rights is a thriving democracy with transparent, accountable institutions of government, equal rights under the rule of law, a robust civil society, political pluralism and independent media.”

On graft and transparency, the report says government’s ongoing redistribution of expropriated, white-owned commercial farms “substantially favours the ruling party elite”.

It also notes that the Zimbabwe Republic Police has become increasingly politicised, while the army, Central Intelligence Organisation and Air Force have in some cases been called upon by government “for domestic operations” instead of rendering external security to the populace.

The report fires a broadside at government’s restriction of academic freedom through the University of Zimbabwe Amendment Act and the National Council for Higher Education Act, which subject higher learning institutions to state influence.

“CIO personnel took faculty and other positions and posed as students at the University of Zimbabwe to intimidate and gather intelligence on students who might protest government actions,” it says.

On the economic front, the report blames government’s inept policies and mismanagement for fuelling economic recession.

It points out the evils of Constitutional Amendment No 17 passed by parliament and signed by President Robert Mugabe last year without broad consultation. The Act granted the government the ability to restrict exit from the country for reasons of public interest, transferred title to the government to all land reassigned in the land acquisition programme, and removed the right to challenge land acquisitions in court.

On the judiciary, it notes that judges were “under intense pressure to conform to government policies, and the government repeatedly refused to abide by judicial decisions”.

It cited legal experts as saying that increasingly defendants in politically-sensitive cases were more likely to receive a fair hearing in magistrates’ courts than in higher courts where judges were more likely to make political decisions.