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African Human Rights Commission Condemns Zimbabwe Human Rights Record

The African Commission on Human and People's Rights has adopted a report critical of President Robert Mugabe's human rights record. The report is the result of investigations done three years ago by the African Union-sponsored Commission.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has circulated the report, adopted last month by the executive council of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, during the African Union meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

Its adoption was delayed for a year because Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe said he had not been given a chance to respond to charges that his administration sanctioned torture, had tainted judges, and politically biased police. Mr. Mugabe denied the charges, although he admitted there had been some excesses. He said Zimbabwe is a victim of an international conspiracy to bring his administration into disrepute. Among the campaigns listed by Mr. Mugabe was one that he said involved the British government. He said white farmers had worked with Britain to set fire to their own houses and loot their own property in order to damage his reputation.

The Commission report recommended Mr. Mugabe restore the impartiality of the judiciary, make the police politically impartial, and end arbitrary arrests of political opponents. The report also said that sections of media and security legislation should be revisited. It said Zimbabwe needed an electoral authority independent of political influence. It also said non-governmental organizations involved in human rights and governance should be allowed to operate without sanction.

Zimbabwe's parliament passed a law in December to ban all non-governmental organizations that engaged in this work. Arnold Tsunga, director of Lawyers for Human Rights said he hoped the Zimbabwe government would take note of the recommendations and implement reforms. The state press that controls 90 percent of information in Zimbabwe has not reported the adoption of the critical report.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who authored Zimbabwe's response to the report's charges, switched off his cell phone when it rang Wednesday. The report is now part of the commission's official documentation. Until now the African Union and other regional groups have been supportive of Mr. Mugabe and have refused to blame him for the deepening political and economic crisis.

Three months before the commission did its investigation, the African Union's small observer group declared that Zimbabwe's disputed and violent presidential election in March 2002 was free and fair. Human rights activists say they hope that A.U. observers monitoring next month's general election will investigate whether Mr. Mugabe has taken the report to heart and instituted reforms.