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UN Investigator on Torture Detained at Airport, Expelled from Zimbabwe


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The U.N. Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, says he will not return to Zimbabwe after he was detained overnight at Harare International Airport and sent back to South Africa.

Manfred Nowak told a news conference in Johannesburg he will ask the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate the situation in Zimbabwe, following his expulsion from that country. He said the United Nations will not abandon its work in Zimbabwe, but he will never personally return to the country.

"I am an expert, an independent expert of the Human Rights Council," said Manfred Nowak. "This is the highest political body of the United Nations dealing with human rights. I will report to them and I will recommend them to take the necessary action in respect to the government of Zimbabwe, because this is not the way the United Nations should be dealt with by a member state of the United Nations."

Nowak said President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF was responsible for preventing him from entering Zimbabwe. He said it showed where the real power lay in Zimbabwe's unity government.

Nowak said he had a personal letter of invitation from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and received approval for his trip from the Ministry of Home Affairs at every step of the planning process.

Nowak said it was only on his arrival that he was told he would not be admitted to Zimbabwe. He said extensive time and money has been wasted.

Even though Foreign Minister Simbarashe Membengegwi was at the airport at the time, he did not take the time to explain the government's decision.

Nowak and two U.N. colleagues said their passports were confiscated, they spent the night in a lounge at the airport and were told to board the first flight out of Harare.

Nowak said treatment of U.N. officials by Mr. Mugabe's officials was a "diplomatic incident."

Mr. Mugabe's foreign affairs officials said the U.N. visit was postponed because the government was engaged with a visit from the Southern Africa Community Development Organ on Security, Defense and Politics, commonly known as the troika.

The panel has been mandated to try to resolve outstanding issues of the year-old political agreement that led to the unity government between old foes, the Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai partially disengaged from the unity government earlier this month, citing failure to resolve outstanding issues of the political agreement; including harassment and selective prosecution of MDC officials and supporters.

Nowak was due to meet all sides about the human-rights situation during his eight-day visit.

"And I am still concerned by serious and credible allegations of torture, ill-treatment and inhuman prison conditions in the country," he said. "I would have liked very much to have been available to the government to assess objectively the situation and all these allegations."

Political analyst Brian Raftopoulos told VOA Nowak's expulsion was predictable and showed Mr. Mugabe's continued contempt for the United Nations.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the treatment endured by Nowak made it difficult for the unity government to attract investment, as incidents like this eroded public confidence in Zimbabwe's political stability.

VOA was not successful in reaching Foreign Minister Mumbengegwi for comment, but the pro-ZANU-PF Herald newspaper accused the U.N. official of "gate crashing" Zimbabwe, saying his visit had been postponed.

Meanwhile the mission from the so-called Kimberly Process which visited Zimbabwe earlier this year, has recommended that trade in Zimbabwe diamonds be suspended for six months citing army violence around the diamond sites in eastern Zimbabwe. The Kimberly Process was put in place to stem the flow of conflict diamonds,

The mission will present its report to the next meeting of the Kimberley Process in Namibia on November 2. Human Rights Watch also called for trade in Zimbabwe's diamonds to be suspended.

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