Business Day (Johannesburg)

24 June 2008

Zimbabwe: Speakers On Human Rights Condemn Harare's Crackdown

Johannesburg — THE move by Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to pull out of Friday's election runoff was hailed as an informed decision by speakers at the release of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders' 2007 annual report in Johannesburg yesterday.

Pansy Tlakula, SA's Independent Electoral Commission chairwoman and a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, described the situation in Zimbabwe as not meeting the standards for free and fair elections.

"As an electoral practitioner myself, the current atmosphere in Zimbabwe is not conducive for free and fair elections. It would be difficult to operate in that kind of an environment," Tlakula said.

Harrison Nkomo, a human rights defender and lawyer from Zimbabwe, who suffered persecution himself and is out on bail , said the situation in Zimbabwe was very bad as both national and international observers, journalists and humanitarian organisations were being attacked by Zanu (PF) loyalists.

He said the MDC has been very patient throughout and persisted in contesting the elections regardless of the many deaths being reported.

"The move by the MDC to pull out of the election runoff is well informed. This is the best political decision Morgan (Tsvangirai) has ever made in his political career," he said.

The pull-out, according to Arnold Tsunga, the vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights and member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, would make President Robert Mugabe even more of an illegitimate leader, without the participation of Tsvangirai in the contest.

"Zanu (PF) is using mass starvation and violence to manipulate and make people comply with their political agenda."

He said the political situation was fertile for anything, including a civil war.

The report shows that human rights defenders -- anyone involved in the promotion and protection of human rights -- were subjected to repressive laws and violent attacks.

The continuing illegal arrests and assault of journalists, human rights activists and the obstruction of humanitarian organisations in Zimbabwe were given as examples.

Tlakula said freedom of expression and information was the very basis on which strong democracies could be built, "and there could be no independent and fair elections without a free media".

She said the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights , as far back as 2002, had made recommendations on various aspects of human rights in Zimbabwe.

"Although there is a challenge in SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, over years there has been great progress and development."

She said the only hope of addressing the challenges was with the establishment of an African court on human and people s' rights.

Tsunga said countries such as Zimbabwe, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo were known for their persecution of human rights defenders.

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