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Attacks on Lawyers Deliberate, Zimbabwe Lawyer Says

A Zimbabwe human rights lawyer has said President Robert Mugabe's govrnment is intimidating, arresting, and beating lawyers as an attempt to destroy the political opposition's last line of defense. Arnold Tsunga, the executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, left Zimbabwe last year for the United States with his family.

He told VOA the treatment of Zimbabwe lawyers is a grand plan by President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to win next year's elections.

"What is happening is that there is a deliberate strategy on the part of the police to sought of dismantle the capacity of human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe tobe able to effectively represent their clients, and their clients are specific group of legitimate political opponents as well as human rights activists that the police are systematically persecuting in order for ZANU-PF to retain the elections in 2008," he said.

Tsunga described as a contemptuous argument the claim by the Zimbabwe government that human rights lawyers and most recently Roman Catholic bishops in Zimbabwe are doing the bidding of certain Western governments, whose aim, according to the government, is to oust President Mugabe.

“Our role as lawyers is to simply represent people who come to us. Most of those people who come to us as grassroots political opposition, is their ability to identify what is wrong in our country and their belief that they can contribute toward turning it around. So I think the allegation by ZANU-PF that the people of Zimbabwe do not think for themselves, that Westerners think for Zimbabweans, is a contemptuous attitude to its own people whom it’s supposed to be claiming legitimate rule from,” Tsunga said.

At the last meeting in Tanzania, leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mandated President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to mediate between the opposition and the Zimbabwe government.

But Tsunga said President Mbeki’s role as mediator has been compromised.

“Thabo Mbeki, his credibility has always been suspect. I think in terms of looking at briefly what he has done, from the time the mandate was given to him by the SADC heads of state in March, he has not been able to give out any milestone, any meaningful rollout plan which has got very specific deliverables in terms of dismantling the institutional operations, the institution of violence, institution of repressive legislation, which, if present up to the time that we have election, it’s not going to be possible to have any free and fair election,” Tsunga said.

Current African Union chairman, President John Kufuor of Ghana, went to South Africa this week to confer with President Mbeki on the crisis in Zimbabwe. Tsunga said he agrees with other critics that the African Union needs to call a special session on the Zimbabwe crisis.

“I think it is long overdue because you know the African Union’s commitment toward greater democracy in the African continent is being seriously questioned as long as you have the likes of Mugabe continuing to roll out terrible policies that have really traumatized and dehumanized Zimbabweans. So for the African Union to be able to sought of claim back what I would call a measure of credibility on the African continent, they need to demonstrate commitment towards the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Tsunga dismissed any suggestion that the African Union may not want to meddle too much in the internal affairs of a sovereign member state. He said a sovereign country is one that has responsibility towards its own citizens.

“Sovereignty starts and ends when a dictatorship becomes dangerous towards its own citizens. So the concept of sovereignty must not be used as a smokescreen to prevent African Union from assuming its responsibility to ensure compliance with its own standards,” Tsunga said

Tsunga said he intends to return to Zimbabwe because, according to him, the solution to the Zimbabwe crisis is going to be provided by Zimbabweans assisted by the international community.