Zim Human Rights Precarious — AI

AMNESTY International Secretary-General Irene Khan yesterday said the government had failed to improve the country’s human rights situation and economic conditions, which she described as “precarious” and “desperate”.


Khan’s assessment after a six-day fact-finding mission in the country comes when the United States and its Western allies have told Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai — who is on a three week re-engagement mission in Europe — that Zimbabwe needs to improve its human rights record and embark on media and legal reforms.

On visits to the Netherlands, the US, Sweden, Germany and Norway over the past two weeks, Tsvangirai has been handed benchmarks the government he formed with President Robert Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara in February should meet before any resumption of economic aid.

The countries only committed themselves to increasing humanitarian aid that will be channelled through United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations.

Zimbabwe needs direct funding to meet its civil service wage bill, restore social services and recapitalise industry hit hard by the country’s 10-year economic and political crisis.

Khan told journalists in the capital that failure by the country to put an end to human rights abuses would dent its chances of receiving financial aid from Western donors.

She said there was “no sense of real urgency to bring about human rights changes on the part of some government leaders”.

“The human rights situation in Zimbabwe is precarious and the socio-economic conditions are desperate for the vast majority of Zimbabweans,” Khan said. “Persistent and serious human rights violations, combined with the failures to introduce reform of the police, army and security forces or address impunity, and lack of clear commitment on some parts of the government are real obstacles that need to be confronted by the top leadership of Zimbabwe.”

During her first visit to Zimbabwe, Khan held talks with Vice-President Joice Mujuru, Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa, Minister of Education David Coltart, Minister of State in the President’s Office Didymus Mutasa, Deputy Minister of Justice Jessie Majome, co-Home Affairs ministers Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa and Speaker of parliament Lovemore Moyo.

She is scheduled to hold talks with Tsvangirai in London on Monday.

However, she could not meet President Robert Mugabe who had prior commitments.

“No serious efforts have been made to reform the security sector,” Khan said.

“No major investigation or prosecution has been brought against those responsible for state-sponsored political violence in recent years. Some elements of Zanu PF still see the use of violence as a legitimate tool to crush political opponents.”

The Amnesty International boss claimed that she had received “no clear indication from the government as to whether, how or when institutional reform, particularly in the security sector will take place”.

“Whenever we raised the issue of human rights change, the government answered that it needed more resources. Ending attacks on human rights defenders, lifting restrictions on the media and allowing public protesters do not need money, they only require will,” said Khan.

Khan challenged Mugabe and Tsvangirai to help end violence by publicly instructing their members to refrain from violence.

“For the climate of intimidation to end President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai must make public statements clearly instructing all party activists to stop harassment, intimidation and threats against perceived political opponents, including teachers and lawyers,” she said.

Khan said Mugabe as head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and leader of the country for the last three decades, and those around him, had a special responsibility to deliver on the Global Political Agreement and particularly on core human rights issues.

She called for strengthening the voice of civil society, which Amnesty International said was critical in the absence of a parliamentary opposition.

The organisation also called for the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression to be guaranteed.

“No meaningful debate can take place without freeing the media. Both national and international media should be allowed to operate freely. This would require neither additional money nor new laws,” Khan added.

However, despite the grim assessment, Khan said the establishment of the inclusive government changed the political landscape and that this was something to be built upon nationally and internationally.
She admitted that tension between Africa and Western countries has not helped to create a common understanding of Zimbabwe’s problems.

“Divisions between Africa and Western governments have not helped to create a common understanding of the human rights problems in Zimbabwe,” said Khan, calling on the international community to overcome its polarisation and support the government to achieve its human rights goals.

She also called on the international community to set common criteria for supporting and measuring the human rights performance of the government.

Although progress on human rights is slow, Khan urged the international community to expand its humanitarian assistance and focus on primary education, saying that all primary school fees and levies should be abolished.

“Because of their inability to pay fees, parents are being forced to make impossible choices, between feeding their children or educating them, between sending their son or daughter to school. The children of Zimbabwe are paying too high a price for the political failure of their government,” she said.

Meanwhile, Tsvangirai and his delegation were in Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday where the country’s premier promised to increase aid to Zimbabwe.

The Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, told Tsvangirai that funds from his government would mainly go towards education, health services and promoting democracy.

The Norwegians pledged US$8 million, to total about US$40 million the country has spent in Zimbabwe so far this year.

As has become the norm with each government that Tsvangirai has visited, the funds will not be channelled through the inclusive government’s financial system, but through the UN, the World Bank and non-governmental organisations.

Tsvangirai was accompanied to the talks by Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.
Norway does not have any sanctions against individuals in Zimbabwe.

Norway’s deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Johansen, who was in Harare last month, had invited Mumbengegwi to visit Oslo with Tsvangirai.

BY NQOBILE BHEBHE