Pillay will be confronted with half-truths, propaganda, lies and deception coming from official and unofficial circles. She would need to be smart and informed to separate fact from fiction.
She must remember what Ki-moon said in 2007 while opening the Human Rights Council fourth session in Geneva, Switzerland, where she is based. Ki-moon spoke about need to shed light in the “darkest corners of the world”.
Referring to the Universal Periodic Review — which involves the assessment of the human rights records of all 192 UN members (now 193) once every four years — Ki-moon said: “This mechanism has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world”.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a UN agency which works to promote and protect human rights guaranteed under international law and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The office was established in 1993 the wake of the World Conference on Human Rights held the same year in Vienna, Austria, against the background of conflicts and human rights violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Angola and Liberia — just a year before the Rwandan genocide. Those involved in human rights abuses in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Liberia are currently facing trial at International Criminal Court at The Hague against a backdrop of complaints of selective application of the law, even by those who are advocates of the same at home!
So it is clear Pillay is part and parcel UN institutions and processes designed to promote and protect human rights around the world. No country is spared when it comes to the periodic review mechanism. All countries are treated as equals and have open opportunities to speak their minds.
In fact, Zimbabwean authorities had a field day last year in October in Geneva when Harare was in the dock — bleating about sanctions and attacking the United States and other western countries while trying to divert attention from their horrendous human rights record back home.
So Pillay must carry with her that culture of being frank and open to Harare. She must raise issues without fear or favour. Her itinerary will allow her to meet a wide cross-section of Zimbabweans who will tell her stories which may sound like they are coming from people living not just in different countries, but in different planets as well. So she must negotiate her way through all that and more.
Pillay will meet President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice and other relevant authorities, as well as the Chief Justice, Speaker of Parliament, President of Senate, among others.
She will also meet with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and members of civil society in the country. She is also considering a number of field visits within and outside Harare, including to the Marange diamond fields. During these visits, she will also meet local communities and civil society members to listen to their experiences and views. This is a very good mix, although it is surprising why the media is not included in her list.
All the same Pillay must be bold and call a spade a spade. She must give credit where it is due, but ask difficult questions given Zimbabwe’s appalling human rights record. It is deeply disturbing, for instance, that in 2012, Zimbabweans are still being persecuted for their real or perceived political beliefs or affiliation. This is the legacy of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF’s disastrous 32-year rule. Political and civil liberties, as well as freedoms of expression and association, in all their various manifestations, and assembly, among other rights, are still being trampled on.
Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe are still rampant. Pillay will hear this for herself even though official briefings will be strangely removed from reality. However, she must be gutsy and help shed light on the darkest corners of our society.