Southern African leaders
are to meet in Johannesburg on Saturday as the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) tries to end Zimbabwe’s political crisis. With eyes focused
on the talks underway in Harare, rights activists are stressing that stopping
the violence that has resulted in deaths of 163 government opponents since the
disputed March 29 election, should take priority over securing agreement on a
new power-sharing government between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). From Johannesburg, Human Rights Watch senior Zimbabwe researcher
Tiseke Kasambala says that
demobilizing and disarming all ZANU-PF supporters, youth militia, and war
veterans is the only way to heal political strife and make it last beyond what
she called a quick political fix.
“The problem here is that they have yet to come
to an agreement, and the danger is that the issue of human rights on the ground
in Zimbabwe as a matter of priority is being swept aside in the search for a
quick political fix. And our view is
that one of the causes of this crisis is the fact that human rights violations
have taken place with absolute impunity since the 1980’s. Without addressing this, there can’t be any
durable, long-term agreement,” she noted.
Human Rights Watch has expressed disappointment
that Zimbabwe’s ruling political machinery continues to undermine its opponents
by stirring attacks against villagers in rural areas, improperly detaining 12
opposition MPs who face what Human Rights Watch calls politically motivated
criminal charges, and by imposing severe restrictions on the distribution of
food aid by local and international humanitarian agencies. Kasambala says SADC leaders on Saturday
should insist on agreement by the sides to a comprehensive program of human
rights reform before any definitive political agreement can be hammered out.
“We have seen bad faith on the part of ZANU-PF as
a political partner in that very little effort has been made to dismantle the
torture camps and bases, to disarm and demobilize the armed ZANU-PF supporters
and war veterans that are still rampaging through some of the rural provinces
of Zimbabwe. And also, there has been
very little investigation into the abuses that have taken place since March 29
and have few prosecutions of the abusers.
So that is a serious problem,” she said.
Human Rights Watch researcher Kasambala says the
challenge for SADC leaders who will come together in Johannesburg this weekend
is how to move the process forward beyond the distrust that exists between the
factions and their inability to accept each other’s terms for working together
in a combined government.
“SADC leaders have today indicated that they
would like to see both parties come to the table and negotiate. So in our view, they’ve been quite lenient
with ZANU-PF, who we believe have been behind the violence. And one of the ways they can pressure the
ZANU-PF is by saying, ‘Look, we recognize that your people are behind most of
the violence taking place in Zimbabwe.
And if you want us to continue to support these negotiations and not to
question your credibility as a genuine political partner in these negotiations,
then you must take urgent measures to end the violence. Condemning and denouncing the violence, as
ZANU-PF has done in the past few weeks is not enough,” she said.
With pressure mounting for SADC chief mediator
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to get the parties to break the
negotiating impasse, Human Rights Watch says that how SADC leaders react to
being briefed by South Africa’s president could determine the direction where
negotiations will proceed. Tiseke
Kasambala says that with a communications blackout on progress at the talks,
SADC leaders need to get President Mbeki to make human rights concerns a top
priority on the negotiating agenda.
“It does look like President Mbeki is under
intense pressure to help resolve the situation in Zimbabwe. And that’s because the crisis has had a huge
impact on Zimbabwe’s neighbors. And it
is within the interests of all SADC leaders to see this situation resolved,”
she points out.
SADC does not make clear that there must be significant human rights progress
on the ground in Zimbabwe, and if President Robert Mugabe does nothing to end
the violence, then Kasambala says SADC should look toward excluding him from
attending future meetings of African heads of state until Zimbabwe shows signs of
making progress in curbing domestic violence and human rights abuses.