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Amnesty International: Zimbabwe Human Rights Problems Persist

Amnesty International's secretary-general Irene Khan says Zimbabwe is suffering persistent and serious human rights violations despite the formation of a unity government four months ago, but she also urged donor countries not to withhold aid. Khan said their was a culture of impunity in Zimbabwe which continued uninterrupted for the last 40 years.

Amnesty's Irene Kahn says that despite the fact that the unity government had introduced a new political dynamic, many Zimbabweans still lived in fear.

"Although the level of political violence is significantly less than last year, the human rights situation in Zimbabwe remains precarious and the social economic conditions are desperate," she said.

During Khan's fact-finding mission she met human rights activists, victims of human rights violations and senior government ministers from both ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change.

At a press conference in Harare, Kahn said the inclusive government had failed to prosecute perpetrators of political violence, and senior Cabinet ministers from both ZANU-PF and MDC told her correcting the culture of impunity was not a priority for the new administration.

"Human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers, continue to be intimidated, harassed, threatened detained and charged often for malicious prosecutions," she said. "Prosecutions are being pursued against 15 political activists and human rights defenders who were abducted last year while at the same time their allegations and complaints of torture during their disappearances are yet to be investigated."

But these continued abuses, Khan said, should not deter countries from withholding aid badly needed to rescue Zimbabwe's devastated economy.

She said the unity government should not only seek economic resources and an end to sanctions, but should ensure the security services were reformed and that new legislation to protect human rights, freedom of the media and assembly were priorities.

"Elements in the police and army and other security officials have been key perpetrators of human rights violations political violence. Yet we got no clear indication from the government as to whether, how and when such reform will happen," she said.

This was the first time Amnesty International had sent its secretary-general to Zimbabwe, although Khan says both the former ZANU-PF and the new inclusive government have allowed the organization access.

Khan called on President Robert Mugabe, as head of state, commander of the armed forces, and leader of Zimbabwe for three decades to ensure that human rights were respected.

This year alone, she said more than 2000 farm worker families had been forced out of their homes and conditions in prisons remained "deplorable."