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UN Criticizes Zimbabwe for Arrest of Union Members - 2003-11-22

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Labor Organization have criticized the government of Zimbabwe over the arrest of hundreds of labor union members.

Acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan says he is very concerned over the arrest of more than 100 union members and civil leaders. They were arrested this week during a protest demonstration in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

His spokesman, Jose Diaz, says this latest violation of the right to freedom of expression follows similar arrests last month. At that time, Zimbabwe police arrested more than 40 labor unionists during a national protest. Mr. Diaz says the U.N. office has received reports that some of the demonstrators have been released on bail.

"We are following up those reports," he said. "The acting high commissioner welcomes reports that some people have been released, that they are on bail. He emphasizes that they should enjoy all the guarantees set forth in the international human rights instruments."

At the same time, the International Labor Organization's Committee on Freedom of Association is calling for an investigation into recurring allegations of violations of labor union rights in Zimbabwe.

The head of the ILO Committee, Bernard Gernigan, says the committee is very concerned about complaints it has received on the arrest and intimidation of hundreds of trade unionists, including the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. He says the ILO is repeating a request it made in June for the Zimbabwean government to accept an ILO fact-finding mission.

"If the government accepts, we will have, what we call a direct contact mission," said Bernard Gernigan. "They have to try to investigate, to establish the facts, and to try to find out with the government and social partners, to find solutions in order that we can have some implementation of the ILO standards of freedom of association and collective bargaining."

Mr. Gernigan says, if the government of Zimbabwe again refuses to allow a mission to go ahead, the matter may be brought up again at the ILO's annual conference in June.