16 Jan 2002

ZIMBABWE: More than diplomatic small-talk at SADC summit in Malawi?

Southern African Leaders who gathered in Malawi on Monday, Jan 14, to find solutions to the region's conflicts have been accused of being soft on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, but a communiqué issued after the Southern African Development Community (SADC) extraordinary summit indicates there was some tough talk behind closed doors.

While not publicly providing any ultimatums, the communiqué said the summit "welcomed" a number of actions to be undertaken by Zimbabwe. These included:

  • full respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of opinion, association and peaceful assembly for all individuals;
  • the commitment to investigate fully and impartially all cases of alleged political violence in 2001 and action to do so;
  • a Zimbabwean Electoral Supervisory Commission which is adequately resourced and able to operate independently;
  • the accreditation and registration of national independent monitors in good time for the elections;
  • a timely invitation to, and accreditation of, a wide range of international elections observers;
  • commitment to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of Zimbabwe;
  • reaffirmation by Zimbabwe of its practice of allowing national and international journalists to cover important national events, including elections, on the basis of its laws and regulations;
  • commitment by the government of Zimbabwe to the independence of the judiciary and to the rule of law;
  • the transfer by the government of Zimbabwe of occupiers of non-designated farms to legally acquired land

The summit also expressed concern over a statement made by the Zimbabwean army that it would not accept a leader who had not fought in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle and urged the government to prevent the military from making political statements.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Zimbabwe's justice minister delayed consideration of a controversial media bill that would muzzle the press, saying he had suggested some changes to the legislation (see separate report).

It was the first indication that the Harare regime might be taking heed of SADC's message.

Amnesty International, however, said in a statement on Wednesday that "Zimbabwe's trail of broken human rights promises should make members of SADC wary of commitments made at the summit. "'Quiet diplomacy' should not become silent acquiescence to continuing gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe has made promises of human rights reforms to the Commonwealth, to the European Union and now to SADC - but there is no sign that the war of killings, torture and intimidation against the political opposition is slowing. Will SADC verify the promises they have received - and if so, how?" the statement asked.

In addition, solidarity groups in Europe critizised authorities in Malawi for the arrest of four civil society representatives from the Zimbabwe Crisis Committee (Brian Raftopolous, a well known civil rights campaigner in Zimbabwe who chairs the Zimbabwe Crisis Committee, Munyaradzi Bidi, Theresa Mugadza, and Kumbirai Hodzi) after their arrival in Blantyre to observe the SADC summit. They were held in custody overnight and deported back to Zimbabwe next morning.- Zimbabweans do not require visas to go to Malawi. (IRIN)

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