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African Union Defers Zimbabwe Human Rights Discussion - 2004-07-08


Leaders at the African Union summit, which concluded in Addis Ababa Thursday, discontinued the discussion of an internal report blasting Zimbabwe's government of President Robert Mugabe for human rights violations. One official says the African Union (AU) had more important topics on its agenda.

AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako told VOA there were many items under discussion by heads of the African Union member-states, but Zimbabwe did not rank high among them.

"We're looking at issues like Darfur, where hundreds and thousands of people have been displaced as more immediate than the issue of Zimbabwe," he said.

The summary of the confidential report, which was written by the AU's Commission on Human and People's Rights in 2002, was circulated at the AU summit, but never discussed.

The AU rights commission said in the summary it found enough evidence to conclude that "at the very least, human rights violations occurred in Zimbabwe." The commission concluded President Mugabe's government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the violations.

But, after a heated debate among foreign ministers, the publication of the summary was delayed and a discussion on Zimbabwe's human rights has been postponed for at least a year.

The dispute comes in the wake of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's appeal to African governments at the summit to respect human rights and encourage free and independent press. The AU itself has staked out fostering good governance as one of its principal goals.

An official of South Africa's foreign affairs ministry, Kingsley Manabolo, said discussion of Zimbabwe's human rights record has been postponed indefinitely.

"The issue of Zimbabwe has been referred back because the process has not [been] completed," he said. "There's been no discussion on the report, it's gone back for further consultation. So it's not finalized."

The AU's Mr. Orjiako says the AU sees the situation in Zimbabwe, in his words, as a political crisis that requires full negotiations at the highest level.

AU officials said the report has been sent to Harare for response, and, if Zimbabwe responds, will be presented at the next AU summit in a year's time.

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