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Zimbabwe's Constitution-Making Process Falters


Zimbabwe's human rights lawyers are considering pulling out of participation in drafting a new constitution because they say more than 40 percent of the delegates are politicians while civil right activists and other non-governmental organizations make up a small minority of the 4,000 delegates. Most of those who have fought a long and hard struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe say they now believe the process of drafting a new charter is a farce.

Irene Petras, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers' for Human Rights says her organization has found that more than 40 percent of the delegates are politicians or belong to strongly politically aligned organizations. In addition, she says this figure does not include delegates who are also civil servants.

Zimbabwe's constitution talks on Monday were violently disrupted by militant backers of President Robert Mugabe. They resumed Tuesday with calls for tolerance in work on a charter meant to pave the way to fresh polls.

The state media, including the only daily newspaper and only radio and television stations, all loyal to ZANU-PF, blamed civil rights activists for Monday's disruptions.

Petras said neither rights lawyers, nor any of the many non-governmental organizations were consulted about the appointment of the two people chairing the conference, both leaders at government universities.

The conference was meant to form committees and infrastructure for countrywide consultations with Zimbabweans to draw up a new constitution.

A leading member of a civic rights group who declined to be named and who sat through proceedings Tuesday, said the environment was hostile. He said any discussion critical of President Robert Mugabe's nearly 30-year rule, during general discussion about constitutional principles, was not allowed.

Another delegate who asked not to be named, said funds provided by the finance ministry and other donors were likely to be cut off as a result of no progress made in drafting a new charter.

Constitutional affairs minister Eric Matinenga said Wednesday he "could not pretend" there were no "difficulties and problems," but he said it was not time yet to walk away and said he believed something useful could yet be "salvaged."

ZANU-PF justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, also closely involved in the constitutional writing process, was not available for comment.

Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party wants the new constitution to be based on a draft drawn up in 2007, but critics say it gives the president too much power.

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