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Human Rights Watch Calls for Monitors to Check Abuses in Zimbabwe

A human rights organization is calling on leaders in southern Africa to take action to deal with the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Peta Thornycroft has more for VOA on an appeal by Human Rights Watch to the presidents of the 14 member Southern African Development Community.

The statement by Human Rights Watch comes ahead of a SADC summit that opens Thursday in Lusaka, Zambia.

Zimbabwe is expected to be a central topic of the meeting. SADC officials called the summit in March and at that time appointed South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate talks between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. At the summit, President Mbeki is expected to report on whether he is making any progress in getting the two sides to reconcile.

In its report, Human Rights Watch said "SADC's credibility as a real force for change on human rights is on the line here and its leaders should insist on tangible improvements in Zimbabwe."

Lance Lattig, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch in London, has some suggestions about what steps SADC should take to address the situation in Zimbabwe.

"Well, they could certainly establish a system of human rights monitors to go into the country to investigate what the human rights situation is so that SADC leaders and the SADC community is informed. And through that offer a certain degree of protection -- just by their very presence," said Lattig.

Lattig said that SADC has to insist on tangible improvements in Zimbabwe.

"For the leaders in the region to show true solidarity with the Zimbabwean people that means protecting them against attacks by their government," said Lattig.

Human Rights Watch says that in the last seven years SADC has failed to extract concrete commitments on human rights from the government of Zimbabwe.

President Robert Mugabe decorated top soldiers in Harare Tuesday as part of the annual armed forces day celebrations. He thanked the security forces for standing behind him during what he described as "trying times."