8 July 2004

AU to suppress report on human rights in Zimbabwe

Addis Ababa - The African Union (AU) was Wednesday set to suppress one of its own reports critical of Zimbabwe's human rights record, in the wake of protests about procedure and claims that the two-year-old assessment was "smuggled" onto the agenda of this weeks AU summit. Foreign ministers have advised their heads of state meeting in Addis Ababa to "suspend the publication" of an annual report by the AUs Commission on Human and People's Rights until concerned countries could include their comments, according to an official record of the ministers decisions, which tend to be adopted at AU summits. Ministers engaged in heated discussions earlier this week over a part of this document that covered a visit to Zimbabwe by the commission in June 2002. The row comes at a time when the AU is trying to promote good governance and respect for human rights, and to distance itself from the crippling non-interventionism that characterized its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

During its trip to Zimbabwe, the commission found evidence of "political violence... torture... and arbitrary arrest... of opposition members of parliament and human rights lawyers," according to the summary of its findings annexed to the annual report tabled at the AU summit. "There were allegations that the human rights violations that occurred were in many instances at the hands of (the ruling) Zanu PF party activists," the commission said, adding however that it was unable to say that this was part of an orchestrated government policy. "By its statements and political rhetoric, and by its failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law, the government failed to chart a path that signalled commitment to the rule of law," it added. The AU body also noted "a flurry of legislation" that undermined freedom of expression. "Zimbabwe said it was not the time" to formally adopt the report, said one delegate present at the AU ministers meeting. "They said the report should not been presented in this form and that it lacked objectivity. They said this was the first time they had seen the report," the official told AFP, adding that Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge had made his points very forcefully.

"It wasnt only Zimbabwe that objected," said an AU official following the affair, explaining that Tunisia was among the objecting states. "The issue was about procedure. The Commission was expected to submit the report to all concerned parties. This has not happened. Regulations were not adhered to," he added. Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo on Wednesday accused the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of "smuggling" the report onto the AU agenda at the behest of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. There was no sign of MDC officials at the Addis meeting. On Tuesday, the MDC welcomed the report's exposure of alleged human rights violations by the government. "We call upon the AU to take concrete steps to ensure that the Zimbabwean government corrects its appalling record on civil liberties, freedom of speech and human rights," the party said in a statement. The archbishop of Buluwayo, Pius Ncube, separately slammed the AU's apparent decision to back away from tackling the report during the summit. "I heard yesterday (Tuesday) that the AU has failed to endorse the report because Zimbabwe said they have not seen it but they've had it for two years," he said at a breakfast meeting in Johannesburg. "That's the sad thing about African leaders, they go there (to the summit) just to support each other. I'm terribly disappointed, my heart is really down," Ncube added. (ZWNews).

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