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Activists Warn of Rights Abuse Upsurge in Zimbabwe

A group of more than 80 Movement for Democratic Change supporters take refuge at party's headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe, after they were attacked in their homes by suspected ZANU-PF party supporters in Harare, other parts of the country, February, 4, 20
A group of more than 80 Movement for Democratic Change supporters take refuge at party's headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe, after they were attacked in their homes by suspected ZANU-PF party supporters in Harare, other parts of the country, February, 4, 20

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Scott Bobb

Human rights activists are warning that an upsurge of political violence in Zimbabwe is threatening reconciliation and will make it impossible to hold free and fair elections due next year. The Human Rights Watch group issued the warning Tuesday in Johannesburg.

Human Rights Watch says politically-motivated abuses in Zimbabwe and the lack of accountability for them are a serious problem, two years after the formation of a power-sharing government that was meant to end such abuses and restore the rule of law.

Author Tiseko Kasambala said the report was a follow-up to the violence that occurred during elections three years ago in which some 100 opposition activists were killed and thousands were wounded.

"There have been no human rights reforms on the ground in Zimbabwe," said Kasambala. "In fact there has been no accountability for the killings and torture and other acts of violence that occurred in 2008. And without that kind of accountability we are likely to see a repeat of the chaos and the violence that we saw in 2008.

The violence began after then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential elections. But longtime President Robert Mugabe won the runoff vote after Tsvangirai withdrew because of the violence.

Months of negotiations brokered by the Southern African Development Community led to a power-sharing agreement between Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. The accord brought the MDC and Tsvangirai, as prime minister, into a unity government with Mugabe.

Under the accord, the parties are to draft a new constitution and organize elections that many believe could be held next year.

The Human Rights Watch report says the agreement also calls for national reconciliation, but notes this has not occurred.

It says some individuals whose family members were killed in the violence identified certain neighbors as perpetrators, and they filed police reports. It says, however, the perpetrators are still at large and have even threatened the victims again.

Kasambala said there can be no healing unless justice is addressed. "We are pushing for the power-sharing government to immediately start investigations into the human rights violations as a sign that it is actually committed to ensuring justice for human rights abuses in the country. We believe this needs to be done before they can take any steps toward elections."

She called on SADC to be more forceful in pressing for justice and seeking to prevent more violence.

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