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Human Rights Report Angers Zimbabwe - 2004-07-12

Some Zimbabwe analysts say the report by the African Union Commission on Human and People's Rights on abuses in Zimbabwe was a watershed, even though it was not formally adopted at last week's AU summit. The report has provoked rising anger in the Zanu-PF government, which says it will provide answers to the report's accusations of human rights abuses.

Zimbabwe's state-controlled media has devoted many pages and long segments of news bulletins on radio and television to accusations that the African Union human rights commission was infiltrated by what the media call "Western imperialists."

Many articles and columns in the state media for the past week have charged that some western donors funded the activities of the African Union's Commission on Human and People's Rights.

The chairman of the government's Media and Information Commission, Tafataona Mahoso, wrote a column in the state's Sunday Mail newspaper saying that the international human rights movement is dominated by, what he calls, the world's most dangerous war mongers and war criminals, which he identified as the United States and Britain.

The Media and Information Commission is staffed by government appointees and has the power to license newspapers and journalists, or deny them permission to operate.

The African Union took evidence from many individuals and groups for its report, including some loyal to Zanu-PF, in June of 2002, after violent presidential elections three months earlier.

In a summary of its report made available last week, the African Union rights commission said it found enough evidence to conclude that, in its words, at the very least human rights violations occurred in Zimbabwe. The commission concluded President Robert Mugabe's government can not wash its hands of responsibility for the violations.

The Zimbabwe state media says the African Union report was based on information from a non-governmental organization, the Amani Trust, which assisted people injured during political clashes, and took testimony from them and from torture victims. The Amani Trust has since closed down because it said it feared reprisals after the government accused it of being a terrorist organization.

Several analysts say angry reaction in the state's powerful media, including the only radio and television stations, indicates that the human-rights report dented the government's confidence of absolute African support.

The top editorial executive at the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, Iden Wetherell, says the report was a watershed in the political landscape. He says the government had been able to dismiss allegations of human rights abuses by western groups, and white countries in the Commonwealth, but it can not ignore Africa's opinion.

The African Union human rights report also accused Zimbabwe of interfering with the independence of the judiciary and of stifling the media.