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Re: AU backs off on Zimbabwe issue

Mr Ayinde, read this , from a Zimbabwean newspaper

Damning AU report on Zim

Nelson Banya
7/8/2004 7:34:41 AM (GMT +2)

ZIMBABWE, increasingly seen as a rogue state, this week managed to defer a damaging diplomatic embarrassment by successfully lobbying for the setting aside of a damning human rights abuse report prepared by the African Union's Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR).

Sources closely watching the unfolding events at the AU heads of state and government summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa have, however, indicated that the issue is far from over although Harare had been given a temporary reprieve by the council of ministers which refused to adopt the report, prepared by a team of human rights experts who visited Zimbabwe in 2002.

"It would appear as if no-one is really keen to talk about the Zimbabwe issue, although it has been suggested that Zimbabwe has been given two weeks to respond to issues raised by the commission," said a source in Addis Ababa.

The report, which rebutted the government's claim that land was at the centre of the political and economic crisis that has engulfed Zimbabwe in the past five years, indicated that there was sufficient evidence placed before the mission to suggest pervasive human rights violations.

"The mission was presented with testimony from witnesses who were victims of police violence and other victims of torture while in police custody. There was evidence that a system of arbitrary arrests took place.

"The mission is prepared and able to rule that the government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for these happenings.

"The country is in need of mediators and reconcilers. The media needs to be freed from the shackles of control to voice opinions and reflect societal beliefs freely. The independence of the judiciary should be assured in practice and judicial orders must be obeyed."

The report further states that Zimbabwe "needs assistance to withdraw from the precipice". The document was circulated to foreign ministers ahead of the summit, which ends today.

The report was also posted on the Iinternet, but has since been withdrawn and will not be published until Harare has responded to the findings, an opportunity which Foreign Affairs Minister Stan Mudenge said the government had been denied. Mudenge said the report had not been "properly presented" to the government.

Analysts have accused the government of using a technicality to duck the report, with some indicating that the report had been presented to the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs way back in February, instead of the foreign affairs ministry.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, however, denied ever seeing the report, which he said was produced in March. Chinamasa said the government had sent a delegation to engage the ACHPR commissioners in May. The delegation had not however reported back to government.

"It is just a mischievous report, but I haven't read it," Chinamasa said.

He charged that the government had problems with the commission and the non-governmental organisations involved in the mission, saying they were funded by the European Union, which has taken a hardline stance on Zimbabwe and imposed sanctions on senior government officials.

Other government departments also spewed scorn on the report, with Mudenge charging that the crafters of the report were "Blair's messengers." Incidentally, Zimbabwe's former attorney-general, Andrew Chigovera, is one of ACHPR's 11commissioners.

Chigovera said he had not participated in the mission that made the findings on Zimbabwe. In terms of the ACHPR conventions, no commissioner participates in a mission to his or her own country.

That the African Union (AU) summit would be ambivalent over findings by its Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) that the Zimbabwean government was guilty of various rights abuses was predictable.

But analysts have pointed out the Commission's act to go against the grain and effectively condemn the Harare government was significant in more ways than one.

For a start, it signifies a clear break with the continental body's tradition of unquestioningly accepting Harare's version of events unfolding in Zimbabwe ever since the political and economic crisis deepened in 2000.

The damning report also raises questions over President Robert Mugabe's protestations that it was only Western governments and rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, that took a dim view of the state of affairs in the southern African country.

The issues raised in the report also serve as an indictment of the stance taken by regional leaders, especially South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, with regards to the Zimbabwe question.

Although the council of ministers once again deferred to Zimbabwe and refused to adopt the document, saying Harare had not been given the opportunity to respond to issues raised in the report, analysts were in agreement that the report signalled a departure from the trend where the continental body did not question the Zimbabwe government's version of developments in the crisis-ridden Southern African country.

This was hardly surprising, considering that last April, all 15 African representatives on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) voted to stymie a resolution to take action against Zimbabwe's deteriorating human rights situation.

The 53-member UNHCR ultimately failed to censure Zimbabwe, as 27 members voted against the resolution while 24 voted for it and there were two abstentions.

It is also insightful that since 2002, when the ACHPR mission visited Zimbabwe and made these observations, The Daily News, the country's biggest circulating independent daily newspaper was forced to close due to non-compliance with Zimbabwe's stringent media laws while, more recently, the government enacted anti-graft laws that have been slammed by human rights activists.

Under the laws, suspects in economic crimes can be held for up to 21 days without trial, a provision legal experts and rights activists have said infringes on basic human rights.

Sources following proceedings in Addis Ababa indicated that Zimbabwe had now been given a fortnight to respond to issues raised in the report.

Human rights lawyer Brian Kagoro said the government could not deny the findings of the ACHPR, whose mission he said had been celebrated in the government-controlled media.

"The government cannot deny that the commission is an African commission, which is an official body of the AU. This is not a Western mouthpiece.

"It made findings of human rights violations in Zimbabwe, which is what many African leaders have been denying and they have now been exposed for their two-faced nature," Kagoro said.

He added that the issue of procedure was inconsequential as far as the findings of the mission were concerned.

Kagoro said the summit's handling of the report would be indicative of many things.

"The issue to look at is - who in the AU is covering up? Why?

"Foreign ministers are not experts in human rights, so they cannot override the report, which was prepared by experts," Kagoro.

The 11-member ACHPR commission is elected by heads of state and government through a secret ballot for six-year terms.

Burkinabe Salamata Sawadogo chairs the commission, which also includes representatives from Sudan, Algeria, Gambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Botswana and Tanzania.

Established by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights which came into force on October 21 1986 after its adoption in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1981 by the assembly of heads of state and government of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the ACHPR is charged with ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the African continent.

ACHPR is headquartered in Banjul, the Gambia.


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