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Harare Raps African Union Human Rights Body

Children at Caledonia Farm, a transit camp for thousands of people displaced by the clean-up campaign in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe's government has accused the African Commission for Peoples' and Human Rights of following the agenda of western countries. The attack follows the stalled mission of an African Union envoy to probe the ongoing demolitions of unapproved housing structures and premises from which informal businesses operated.

The attack on the African Commission for Peoples' and Human Rights came in an article in the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, widely believed to be the mouthpiece of the ruling Zanu-PF Party and the government.

The article accuses the African Union panel of "consistently demonizing Harare" in contrast to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which it says has given Zimbabwe a vote of confidence twice.

It further notes that the African Commission for Peoples' and Human Rights produced a "damning" report after a three-member ACPHR delegation visited Zimbabwe in June 2002. It also said the AU Commission tried to "ambush" Zimbabwe by trying to get a report not complimentary of the country's human-rights record discussed by the African Union Council of Ministers in 2004.

The paper says sending Bahame Tom Nyanduga last week to assess the impact of Zimbabwe's clean-up exercise, called Operation Restore Order, is consistent with its intentions to demonize Zimbabwe. The government says it learned of Mr. Nyanduga's intended visit only after he boarded a plane for Harare.

In its statement announcing Mr. Nyanduga's vist, the African Union said he was being sent to Harare by the continental body's chairman Alpha Oumar Konare.

But the Herald says because of what it called the categorical refusal by the African Union to discuss Zimbabwe during its summit this week in Libya, Mr. Nyanduga's visit suggests an ulterior motive of "western collusion and agenda adoption."

It challenged Mr. Nyanduga, who is in Harare awaiting the go-ahead to carry out his mission from the Zimbabwean government, to prove he is not being used by western countries, which give the commission funds.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesperson Otto Saki dismissed the Herald report, saying, because of countries not paying their AU dues on time, the continental body is so under-funded it depends on donations from non-African organizations and countries.

He also described as "misleading" the Herald statement that Zimbabwe got a vote of confidence from the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Mr. Saki said because the proposal to have Zimbabwe's human-rights abuses discussed by the world body was blocked by friends of Zimbabwe does not mean there are no human-rights abuses in the country.

The forced evictions, now in their sixth week, have been widely condemned at home and abroad as gross human-rights violations. U.N. envoy Anna Tibaijuka is in Zimbabwe to assess their impact and the United Nations says about 200,000 Zimbabweans have been made homeless. Defending the operation, President Robert Mugabe recently said the operation was necessary to eliminate "hideouts of crime and grime".