Government ambushes plans for CSOs meeting with UN Rights Chief

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay yesterday arrived in Zimbabwe to assess the human rights situation. Pillay is scheduled to hold talks with President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, defence and service chiefs, judges, lawmakers and leaders of rights groups. She will hear reports of alleged human rights abuses at diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe where the military has been accused of shootings and torture of villagers driven from mining areas. Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa, quoted in the state controlled Sunday Mail newspaper (20 May 2012) said he was not concerned by submissions Pillay is expected to receive from rights activists and non-governmental organizations referring to them as 'detractors'.

"We are happy we will be able to host her because we have nothing to hide in terms of human rights issues. We are not worried about what our detractors will say," said Chinamasa

During a press conference held today, 21 May 2012 by civil society organisations in Harare, the organisations expressed shock at the relocation of their meeting with Ms. Pillay by the Ministry of Justice without prior communication with CSOs.

'It was thus with great shock that we learned that the Government of Zimbabwe, through the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs had ambushed the plans that had been made and already put in place by CSOs in preparation for the visit by the High Commissioner. The permanent secretary, David Mangota, had unilaterally changed the venue of the meeting, moving it to Parliament building and had invited several other 'organisations' that are not known to be doing any work on human rights in Zimbabwe.' (Excerpt from the statement)

The CSOs further highlighted that they would hold the meeting at their initial venue and not Parliament as dictated by the government.

'We today are here to make it clear that genuine CSOs will not be commandeered by government to a stage-managed civil society meeting with the High Commissioner which is organised by the government; neither will we legitimise a fraudulent exercise meant to give the UN human rights chief a superficial picture of our country's human rights situation. We also wonder why government will not allow us a mere one hour and thirty minutes with the High Commissioner during a programme that is set to continue for 5 days, and especially when it does not know what we are going to say. Surely, government can and is free to organise its own meetings with its preferred "CSOs" and leave us to execute our mandate independently!' (Excerpt from the statement)

In more than a decade of political and economic turmoil, President Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF party has been accused of trampling on human rights and democratic freedoms, vote rigging and targeting opponents and independent journalists in assaults and intimidation. The level of impunity in Zimbabwe as shown by the failure of Zimbabwe's government to investigate and prosecute killings, torture, and politically motivated violence since independence, is fuelling further rights violations. Complaints of political violence filed by victims or their relatives have largely been ignored by the police and stalled in the courts. The government has failed to respond to calls by local nongovernmental organizations to investigate abuses. Local human rights groups have reported several cases in which security agents and ZANU-PF supporters tortured and harassed civilians since 1980.

Zimbabwe's power-sharing government has also failed to hold to account security agents who in November and December 2008 abducted and tortured over 40 human rights activists and officials from the Movement for Democratic Change.

There also has been little progress in setting up effective transitional justice mechanisms to deal with past human rights abuses. The Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation, and Integration, which was established in the aftermath of the creation of the government of national unity, has not included any provisions for justice and accountability. Constitutional provisions that allow Mugabe to grant pardons, amnesty, or clemency to those implicated in or convicted of serious human rights violations have not been amended, as envisioned in the post-election roadmap.

It is hoped that the coming of Navi Pillay will probe and push Zimbabwe's power-sharing government to conduct immediate, credible, impartial, and transparent investigations into serious human rights abuses and to discipline or prosecute those responsible, regardless of their position or rank.

Read : Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations' Statement on the Visit by the UN Human Rights Commissioner to Zimbabwe

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