THE International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors and media executives, has expressed disappointment at the slow progress made by the African Union in tackling Zimbabwe’s poor human rights
record, particularly on freedom of the
In a letter to the chairman of the African Union, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo Brazzaville and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, dated April 4, the institute said the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) had on numerous occasions urged the AU to condemn “Zimbabwe’s abysmal press freedom record” but nothing had been done.
“To this day, these attempts have foundered for reasons ranging from improbable excuses by the Zimbabwean government, to the AU’s desire to focus on procedural matters and alleged reporting irregularities rather than human rights abuses,” the IPI said.
In June 2002 the ACHPR sent a delegation on a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe that produced a “strongly worded” report calling on the Zimbabwean government to promote a climate conducive to freedom of expression.
Controversial legislation undermining the freedom of expression was criticised in the report.
At the AU’s third summit in July 2004 the press institute says there were plans to discuss the summary of the delegates’ findings as part of the ACHPR’s annual review on Zimbabwe but the decision was later withdrawn.
The decision was later rescinded after the Zimbabwean government successfully argued that it had not had an opportunity to examine the report.
According to the Zimbabwean government, the report had been sent to the wrong ministry thus preventing an assessment of its contents.
After the AU’s 38th session held in Banjul, The Gambia, the ACHPR passed a December 5 2005 resolution calling on the government of Zimbabwe “to respect fundamental rights and freedom of expression” and to allow a second fact-finding mission to enter the country but the plea was turned down.
The IPI pointed out that efforts by the ACHPR to try and drive its point home at the AU summit in Khartoum, Sudan, in January this year were again fruitless as the council of ministers rejected yet another report on Zimbabwe claiming that it contained “irregularities and procedural flaws”.
The IPI said four years have now elapsed since the original fact-finding mission came to Zimbabwe and the AU was failing in its duty to uphold human rights.
“While it is entirely proper for the Zimbabwean government to be allowed time to reflect on any report containing allegations of human rights violations, it is wholly inappropriate that the AU should allow transparently obvious delaying tactics to derail the process of criticising the Zimbabwean government abuses,” the IPI said.
The IPI feels the failure by the AU to take action on ACHPR’s criticism of Zimbabwe may be jeopardising the credibility of Nepad’s African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
“The ACHPR statement on Zimbabwe requires a review by Zimbabwe’s peers in the AU and if that is not forthcoming, the world may be led to believe that the Nepad APRM lacks substance,” it said.
The IPI called on the AU to reassess the Zimbabwean situation and to re-examine reports by the ACHPR as a test on African democratic institutions.
“IPI believes that Zimbabwe represents an important test for African democratic institutions and it is essential that the AU places the importance of human rights and freedom of the press above what appears to be a deep-seated reluctance to criticise African leaders.”