23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Pressure On Mugabe At AU

LOCAL, regional and international human rights groups are in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, venue of the African Union (AU) summit currently underway, to lobby continental leaders to push President Robert Mugabe into implementing outstanding reforms under the Global Political Agreement.

There is concern President Mugabe is likely to call for harmonised polls in June this year without requisite legislative and electoral reforms, which include the re-alignment of the security sector.

The crack-down on civil society members ahead of Zimbabwe's make-or-break polls has also sent jitters among the country's civil society activists, forcing them into a beeline to the Ethiopian capital.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum are some of the human rights groups that have dispatched representatives to lobby African leaders to deal with the crisis in Zimbabwe, particularly the arrest and detention of local human rights defenders.

Okay Machisa, the chairperson of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and national director of Zimbabwe Human Rights (ZimRights), was arrested three weeks ago and subsequently charged with contravening Section 31, 136 and 137 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly attempting to defraud the Registrar General's Office by forging and manufacturing counterfeit voter registration certificates.

The State has also linked the offence to charges faced by Leo Chamwahwinya, the ZimRights education programmes manager, who was arrested on December 13, 2012 together with Dorcas Shereni, the ZimRights Highfields Local Chapter chairperson and Farai Bhani and Tatenda Chinaka.

Human rights groups say the arrest and detention of the ZimRights official was intended at instilling fear among the country's small but vibrant civil society ahead of elections as was the case in the run-up to the 2008 bloody polls.

Several representatives of the civil society organisations, among them Jestina Mukoko, were held incommunicado in the run-up to the 2008 harmonised polls.

But ZANU-PF accuses Western-funded civil society organisations of being appendages of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his formation of the Movement for Democratic Change.

The groups attending the AU summit say they want the continental leaders to force President Mugabe to institute democratic reforms and end what they describe as a crackdown on human rights defenders.

"We reiterate our position that the political environment in Zimbabwe is not yet conducive for a free and fair election," Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said in statement ahead of the summit.

"We appeal for solidarity action, regional and international pressure on the Zimbabwe State to respect the rule of law. Such action is important to mitigate against a possible surge in the harassment and detention of activists especially as we head towards the general election," it added.

Human Rights Watch, which has released several damning reports on alleged rights violations during the life-span of the coalition government, is also represented at the summit.

Although Harare is not on the official AU agenda of the summit, Lindiwe Zulu, the international relations advisors to the Southern African Development Community appointed mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, South African President Jacob Zuma, said the Harare issue was likely to crop-up at the summit.

"Zimbabwe may come up between the facilitator (Zuma) and other African leaders," said Zulu. "They want closure on the crisis in Harare," she said.

President Mugabe is expected to attend the summit. Last week he was debriefed by out-going AU chairperson Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi about the indaba.

According to media reports, they discussed the continent's troubled spots, among them the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Mali.

The shocking weekend hostage debacle in Algeria which claimed nearly 80 lives is likely to be added to the agenda of the summit pencilled to discuss Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance, according to African diplomats in Harare.

The summit ends on Monday.

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