Zimbabwe's leaders are meeting to choose a new government as part of a
power-sharing agreement signed Monday aimed at ending the country's
political crisis. But human rights groups say they will press the new
unity government to reign in abuses by security forces and punish
previous human rights violations. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from
our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.
Human rights groups
say Zimbabwe's power-sharing agreement is a step forward, but the unity
government created by the accord must address human rights abuses if it
is to succeed.
Amnesty International's Zimbabwe expert, Simeon
Mawanza, says the government of President Robert Mugabe has been
violating human rights for years.
"Under international law a
country, especially Zimbabwe, would have a responsibility to ensure
that victims of human rights violations get justice," he said. "And the
unity agreement should not be used as a mechanism to deny victims their
The Zimbabwe accord followed months of negotiations
between Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and opposition leader Morgan
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.
Mawanza worries that the unity government created by the agreement will amnesty those who committed human rights abuses.
the mediation process, human rights were not so much featured in the
dialogue or in the discourse of the mediation process," he said. "And
it is time now that human rights become central as part of the
investment in the long-term sustainable peace of the country."
International would like to see a mechanism set up to investigate human
rights violations and look at reparations for their victims.
The opposition says more than 100 activists were killed and thousands beaten or tortured during this year's election campaign.
opposition won parliamentary elections in March and Mr. Tsvangirai won
more votes than Mr. Mugabe in the first round of the presidential
vote. But Mr. Mugabe won a runoff election after Mr. Tsvangirai
withdrew, citing a campaign of state-sponsored violence.
Africa Deputy-Director of Human Rights Watch, Carolyn Norris, says the
new government should send a signal to the Zimbabwean people and
international community by taking some immediate steps.
that includes really important things like, for a start, dismantling
the torture camps which are still operational in parts of Zimbabwe,
releasing all the political prisoners and stopping this whole program
of spurious political charges against members of the MDC," she said.
says many opposition leaders, including six elected members of
parliament, were detained in recent weeks on politically motivated
charges. And hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail.
leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was beaten in February while trying to
hold a rally, acknowledged the need to address human rights during
remarks at the signing ceremony in which he praised ZANU-PF leaders.
colleagues that have made this historic opportunity possible, only
through a public acknowledgment of past wrongs can we begin the process
of national healing," he said.
Activists acknowledge that
Zimbabwe's new leadership faces daunting challenges, including easing
food shortages for millions of people and rebuilding the country's
decayed infrastructure, health services and education system. But they
say reforming the justice system and strengthening the rule of law are
also important for the successful reconstruction of the nation.