African Union Panel Condemns Zimbabwe?s Human Rights

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The African Union''s human rights body has condemned Zimbabwe''s human rights record, and analysts say African leaders will have a chance to demonstrate how serious they are in dealing with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during the AU Summit later this month.

The African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) released a stinging report on human rights situation in the southern African country, saying the regime there is abusing human rights "with impunity."

"It is an important step," said Odindo Ogwen, a human rights scholar and activist. "It shows that the African body is now ready to become serious about correcting the disappointing human rights situation in some African countries," he added.

The African Union is frequently accused of not doing enough to compel Mugabe change his ways.

The ACHPR report is based on the commission''s deliberations, which took place late last year in the West African country of Gambia. However, the report was not released until last week, when it was leaked to the press.

African leaders will have an opportunity to read the report during the AU Summit in Khartoum, Sudan, at the end of this month.

"It remains to be seen what the leaders will say. Their support of the document will be very important," said Ogwen.

Jacob Mafume, the coordinator of a human rights lobby group, said the African leaders are likely to adopt the commission's resolutions and try to rectify any problems identified in the report.

Significantly, 22 state officials and 9 national human rights institutions were present during the deliberations that led to the report. Governments represented by those officials have supported the resolution.

Among them was Burundi''s Minister of Human Rights Francoise Ngendahayo. She urged AU members to stand up for human rights on the Continent. "The human rights situation in most of the Member States remains fragile," she said.

The AU commission wants Zimbabwe to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of expression, association, and assembly by repealing or amending repressive legislation.

The commission also urged the government to uphold the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.

The resolution calls for the government to allow a fact-finding mission to investigate the current situation of internally displaced people in Zimbabwe; to stop forced evictions; and to allow international aid agencies into the country.

The condemnation comes in the wake of a new wave of media repression in Zimbabwe. In late December, police detained the Voice of People radio station director, John Masuku and three station journalists after they were accused of broadcasting without a license. Police confiscated newsroom equipment, including computers, in the raid.

An opposition leader in South Africa, which has been at the forefront of defending Mugabe and adopting quiet diplomacy towards that regime, says Pretoria should now become proactive in demanding an end to human rights violations in Harare.

"The time for South Africa's quiet diplomacy towards its northern neighbour had ended," said Joe Seremane, the acting Democratic Alliance leader.

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