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Zimbabwe Criticized for Planning Restrictions on Travel


Zimbabwe civil rights advocates blasted the government's proposed constitutional amendments that would, among other things, curtail the right of people to travel within the country and abroad. The government says the limit on travel is in public interest.

President Robert Mugabe's government says the constitutional amendment to restrict peoples' movements is a measure needed to combat international terrorism and protect the country's national interests.

But to human rights organizations, which have submitted their comments on the proposals, the measure violates a basic human right guaranteed in the 1980 constitution. They say there is no definition of "national interest" in the government proposal, and that there are many effective antiterrorism laws already in place.

In addition to restricting travel, the government's proposed constitutional amendments also include changes that would affect property rights and, in effect, create a second legislature made up of appointed, not elected members.

According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the restriction on travel could be used against political opponents or activists to prevent them from speaking out against President Mugabe's policies at international forums.

David Coltart, legal secretary for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, called the proposed travel restrictions a "grave and sinister assault" on another fundamental human right. He said it was intended to prevent people from leaving the country to tell the world what was going on in Zimbabwe.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, who drafted the constitutional amendments, has said he will not comment until he presents the legislation to parliament next week.

The constitutional changes can be adopted by a two-third majority in the legislature. Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF, which won a majority of the seats in the last parliamentary election, can muster the two-third majority with the help of the 30 legislators appointed by Mr. Mugabe.

Parliamentary rules have been changed to speed up the adoption of new laws. Political observers say the constitutional amendments could be enacted within days under the new fast-track procedure.

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