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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Regional silence on crisis "loud"
    IRIN News
    March 13, 2007

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    HARARE - Pro-democracy activists lashed out at the lack of a regional response to the "deteriorating human rights" situation in Zimbabwe as two activists were shot and wounded by police in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday, the third day of police crackdowns.

    "At the very least they can issue a condemnation of the brutality and torture, and urge the Zimbabwe government to take action against the police," said Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabean academic and curently African affairs specialist at the South African-based Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

    "The silence from the region and SADC [Southern African Development Community] on the situation in our country is loud," said a bitter Jacob Mafume, coordinator of Crisis in Zimbabwe, a coalition of more than 300 civil society organisations.

    The region's silence has attracted growing criticism as rallies were banned in Harare in February, after running battles between the police and supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party prior to a meeting to launch the party's presidential campaign in Highfield, a high-density suburb in the capital.

    Tension has been mounting in Zimbabwe for the past two months: NGOs, church groups, labour and students have all staged sporadic demonstrations around the country as Zimbabweans battled with annual inflation now running at more than 1,700 percent, compounded by shortages of foreign currency, food, fuel, electricity and medicines.

    A statement on Tuesday by the South African government stopped short of any criticism of the Zimbabwean government and urged it to ensure that "the rule of law, including respect for the rights of all Zimbabweans and leaders of various political parties, is respected."

    In the first detailed statement on the situation, South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad, said, "Similarly, we appeal to leaders of opposition political parties to work towards a climate that is conducive to finding a lasting solution to the current challenges faced by the people of Zimbabwe."

    Officials in Zambia, which will assume chairmanship of SADC in August, and neighbouring Botswana said they were monitoring the situation.

    Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister Mundia Sikatana last week reportedly urged the region not to ignore the festering crisis in Zimbabwe, adding that when Zambia assumed the chairmanship of the SADC he intended to move the Zimbabwe question up the agenda and engage the European Union on the matter.

    Press reports in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, said Sikatana made his statements to SADC Executive Chairman Thomaz Salomao, who was in Zambia to prepare for the SADC summit in August 2007. "We should not pretend that all is well in Zimbabwe," Sikatana said. "There is a serious problem, and ostracising Zimbabwe will not help solve the problems there."

    On Tuesday, Zimbabwean police disrupted the wake of Gift Tandare, Youth Chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly, a nongovernmental organisation advocating constitutional reform in Zimbabwe, who had been shot dead by the police on Sunday during running battles with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters, ahead of a planned prayer meeting.

    MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was among 30 pro-democracy leaders who were beaten and arrested by the police, also on Sunday, for allegedly inciting violence.

    Nickson Magondo and Naison Mashambanhaka were shot and wounded while attending Tandare's wake, in Glenview, a Harare suburb. Police also raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in the capital on the pretext of looking for subversive material.

    "The evidence of brutality at the hands of the police is there to see," Raftopoulos commented. "We want to see South Africa and SADC encourage the Zimbabwean government to dialogue with the NGOs and opposition instead of responding to public meetings with this kind of brutality."

    After two days in custody, Tsvangirai and other arrested leaders, all bearing wounds and bruises, appeared in court and were taken to hospital for treatment.

    "It is unacceptable that, post-independence, meetings are being banned and we are being subjected to colonial treatment, and then the regional leaders bury their heads in sand," said Crisis in Zimbabwe's Mafume.

    South Africa's labour federation, Congress of South African Trade Unions, condemned its government's "shamefully weak" response "in the face of such massive attacks on democracy and human rights, especially coming from those who owed so much to international solidarity when South Africans were fighting for democracy and human rights against the apartheid regime".

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said, "I welcome the speed and firmness with which Zimbabwe's courts have acted in the face of shocking reports of police abuse," and commended the High Court's order that Tsvangirai be provided with medical treatment.

    "This form of repression and intimidation of a peaceful assembly is unacceptable, and the loss of life makes this even more disturbing," Arbour added. "I urge the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure an immediate, impartial and comprehensive investigation into these events; I encourage the courts to continue to discharge their responsibilities as guardians of the rights of all Zimbabweans."

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the chorus of condemnation by western governments and urged the Zimbabwean government to release all opposition leaders.

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