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UN Official Alarmed by Zimbabwe Situation - 2002-01-16

The top U.N. human rights official has expressed alarm over what she calls the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. Mary Robinson is calling for immediate action to halt the clampdown on political opponents and the press before March elections.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson says there is a real human rights crisis in Zimbabwe. She says she has written to President Robert Mugabe several times as part of what she calls "quiet pressure" to stop the breakdown of rights protections in the country.

Mrs. Robinson says she has also noted President Mugabe's pledge at the Southern Africa Development Community Summit in Malawi on Monday that the March elections in Zimbabwe would be free and fair and subject to international monitoring.

"I think this is something that must be followed through," she said. "But when the independence of the judiciary comes under such severe pressure and threat, when parliamentarians, political activists, journalists - all the organs of a free society - are under legislation that is increasingly repressive and actual physical threats and actual violations of their rights without the protection of the courts. This is a very worrying situation."

Analysts say Zimbabwe has been plunged into the biggest political and economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1980. Violent seizures of white-owned land and restrictions on its independent judiciary are causing deepening instability.

A controversial media bill proposes barring foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe and obliges local reporters to apply for one-year licenses renewable by the government.

Mrs. Robinson calls these trends very worrying. "There is a growing climate of a sense of impunity of anyone being made accountable for these breeches," said the U.N. official. "So the combination of this has meant that it is a very serious and, I am sorry to say, at the moment a deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe and this has impacts on neighboring countries and southern Africa."

Mrs. Robinson says real democracy requires full respect for human rights. She says her office is ready to give any help it could to move toward that objective in Zimbabwe.