HARARE - U.N. Special Rapporteur Clement Voule is in Zimbabwe this week on a 10-day visit to assess the human rights situation, as rights groups accuse the government of being behind recent disappearances of activists in the country.
It is the first official visit by an independent human rights expert to Zimbabwe.
"I am here at the invitation of the government of Zimbabwe regarding my mandate to assess the implementation and protection of freedom of association and peaceful assembly in the country," said Voule, who was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
His trip comes as doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe hold vigils and protests to call attention to the disappearance of Peter Gabriel Magombeyi, acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association. The doctors say their leader was abducted from his home over the weekend for leading an industrial action against the government over their salaries, which amount to under $200 a month.
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Health Minister Obediah Moyo denied Harare's involvement in the disappearance, while Magombeyi's colleagues say they will not go back to work until he safely returns.
"For now, we have said as doctors, 'Let's down our tools until Peter comes back, because our own security as doctors is not guaranteed. They took Peter. What will stop them from taking one of us?'" said Tawanda Zvakada, acting secretary general of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association.
Douglas Coltart, with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, says his organization believes the government might be responsible for the spate of abductions targeting activists.
"We now have 51 abductions just this year," he said. "It's a massive concern, and all of these abductions follow a similar modus operandi, where people come — typically men in masks using military-grade weapons such AK-47s — break into people's homes, abducting them, torturing them. It's a huge concern."
Voule is expected to present a preliminary report on his findings Sept. 27.