January 3, 2006

African Union slams human rights record

The African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR), an African Union (AU) institution, has adopted a resolution strongly denouncing Zimbabwe's human rights practices. "This will exert a lot of pressure on Zimbabwe - this is the first time such a significant body, so close to African heads of state, observes and condemns such defiance of human rights compliance," Arnold Tsunga, Director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said.
The ACHPR resolution, passed at a meeting in Gambia in December 2005, would test African leaders' "capacity and political will to deal with African problems", Tsunga remarked. "This gives the AU heads of state an opportunity to show they have the ability and are committed to deal with such issues." The earliest possible date for AU heads of state to adopt the resolution is at their next meeting, scheduled for the end of January or early February 2006.
"Zimbabwe is expected to comply with international treaties, and if there is no voluntary compliance it is up to other [AU] member states to use their political muscle to ensure that it does. Political and economic sanctions could then follow and Zimbabwe would become a pariah state," Tsunga warned. He stressed that the resolution, based on findings by an independent expert group appointed by the AU heads of state, "already vindicates civil society groups working on human rights in Zimbabwe. It shows that what we are doing is not in vain and gives human rights defenders a tool, a benchmark, to measure the government's performance on human rights issues."
The ACHPR also expressed concern over the estimated 700.000 people affected by the Zimbabwe government's controversial two-month-long urban cleanup campaign, Operation Murambatsvina. "Because the responsibility for Operation Murambatsvina lies with the highest office, president Mugabe, it won't be possible for anyone to demand accountability," Tsunga alleged. (Rts)

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