New Zimbabwe government must tackle human rights abuses – UN official

12 February 2009

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today called on Zimbabwe’s new Government of National Unity to immediately restore the rule of law and address abuses committed over the course of the recent political crisis.

“The long drawn-out process to reach a political settlement was marked by the perpetration of serious human rights violations and caused untold damage to the rule of law in Zimbabwe,” Navi Pillay said in a news release. “All eyes will be on this new Government to see if it can undo that damage.”

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in yesterday as Prime Minister in a unity government with President Robert Mugabe, following months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections last March.

Ms. Pillay voiced concern over the disappearance of opposition officials, the reported use of torture to extract false confessions and infringements of the independence of the judiciary.

“The pattern of enforced disappearances and unlawful arrests in recent months – for which the Government has acknowledged some responsibility – spread fear among opposition officials and their supporters as well as human rights activists and the independent media,” she said

“In cases where the accused were later produced in court, the police often failed to respect or enforce court orders,” she added.

Ms. Pillay noted that undue pressure had been put on the judiciary to keep several people, including human rights activist Jestina Mukoko and journalist Shadreck Anderson Manyere, as well as members of the opposition, in custody.

“This is a serious infringement on the independence of the judiciary,” she said, “and it is particularly disturbing in cases where the courts had already ordered medical examinations and treatment for people who reported they had been tortured.”

She called on the new Government to meet its obligations under international law, including the prohibition of torture and respect for the independence of the judiciary. “It is vital that international attention is focused on preventing future violations in the country by ensuring that human rights defenders and independent media are able to carry out their work without being harmed, arrested or harassed,” she stated.

“I call for the immediate release of all those people currently still being held in unlawful custody.”

Concern was also expressed over the “politicization” of the police and their failure to undertake credible investigations and arrests of individuals alleged to have committed serious violations during the election violence in June and July.

These include hundreds of cases of alleged summary executions, torture and sexual violence, including rape, the great majority of which are believed to have been carried out by supporters of Mr. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. “The Government of Zimbabwe has the primary responsibility to see that justice is done for these victims,” said Ms. Pillay.

The UN human rights chief is awaiting word from the Government for a visit to Zimbabwe, which has been faced with a worsening humanitarian situation owing to years of failed harvests, bad governance and hyperinflation, as well as its worst-ever cholera outbreak which has already claimed 3,400 lives and infected more than 69,000 people.

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