EU takes Zim govt on over rights abuses

Nyasha Chingono

THE European Union (EU) has taken government to task over the slow pace of reforms and the country’s deplorable civil rights record following a series of incidence where state security agents have used brute force to crush dissent and harass human rights activists and opposition members.

This was raised when the block held its second formal dialogue meeting with Zimbabwe a fortnight ago. The meeting was meant to provide a path towards a nomalising relations with the southern African country as part of the ongoing reengagement process.

EU ambassador, Timo Olkkonen told the Zimbabwe Independent that escalating human rights violations were on top of the agenda during the EU-Zimbabwe second formal dialogue held in the capital.

The five hour meeting deliberated on contentious issues such as the need for Harare to urgently expedite implementation of political reforms while calling on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to restrain from using brutal force to thwart dissent.

Although the two parties failed to agree on a number of issues, the inter-ministerial meeting highlighted concerns by Brussels over the sluggish pace of reforms. The meeting was co-chaired by acting Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister July Moyo and EU’s ambassador Olkkonen.

“We raised our concerns on the overall human rights situation, particularly in 2019. We had discussions on some of the issues which include the excessive use of force by the security forces. We had differences in how we interpreted these events. We raised the slowness of reforms and what we hoped to have seen a faster pace both on the economic and political side. We also discussed the transitional stabilisation programme (TSP); I think the TSP envisages a faster pace of reforms,” Olkkonen said the Independent.

“It was a good discussion, very substantial. We had a very substantial agenda. We discussed political issues, human rights which we needed to discuss at these meetings, governance and the progress on economic reforms. It was a long meeting which lasted about five hours which tells you about the interest and the level of detail we went into. Of cause we couldn’t agree on everything. But all in all it was an in-depth discussion that we had. We raised the Mothlanthe Commission report, the EU Electoral Observer Mission report where we have not seen a lot of movement in implementation.”

Mnangagwa is yet to implement recommendations by the Mothlanthe Commission which looked into the August 1, 2018 shootings where six people were shot dead in central Harare.

Shortly after Zimbabweans cast their votes in a disputed poll that was narrowly won by Mnangagwa last year, the military shot and killed six people on the streets of Harare, leaving dozens injured. The military was deployed to quell protests which erupted as people demanded the quick release of election results, amid allegations that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was rigging the polls in favour of Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa, who had risen to power through a military coup which toppled former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017, instituted a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe to probe circumstances surrounding the shootings.

The commission came up with a number of recommendations, including the compensation of victims of the shootings. However, Mnangagwa’s government, which has been on an international re-engagement drive, has not yet compensated any of the aggrieved victims, more than a year after the shootings triggering the concern of the international community.

The international community, including Brussels also condemned government after 17 civillians were killed by security forces in January. The shootings were triggered by protests which flared up after government effected a 150% fuel price hike.

Human rights defenders have also condemned the abductions and torture of human rights activists. About 50 human rights activists have been abducted since January.

“We sincerely hope that various human rights violations that have been taking place over the course of the year would be addressed and that they will not be repeated,” Olkkonen said.

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