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UN Human Rights Chief ends first ever mission to Zimbabwe

UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay called for Zimbabwe’s political actors to ensure that key reforms agreed in the 2008 GPA (Global Political Agreement) – the document that established the framework for the current Government of National Unity – are enacted and cautioned that if this action is not taken the past election violence and human rights abuses could be repeated.

“This polarization is acting as a major impediment on a number of fronts, including the advancement of human rights. Concern is also rising both inside and outside the country that, unless the parties agree quickly on some key major reforms and there is a distinct shift in attitude, the next election which is due sometime in the coming year could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections which resulted in rampant politically motivated human rights abuses, including killings, torture, rapes, beatings, arbitrary detention, displacements and other violations,” Pillay said at a press conference at the end of her first visit to Zimbabwe.

Pillay emphasised that it is “essential that a satisfactory new Constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights is in place soon so that  the referendum to confirm it and all the electoral reforms necessary for a peaceful, free and fair election can be carried out before people go to the polls.”

She observed that the country is facing serious economic issues, “including sanctions, insufficient development funding, inadequate public services, unemployment, and loss of productivity, massive emigration and corruption.”

Pillay said: "While it is difficult to disentangle the specific causes of Zimbabwe’s major social and economic ills, there seems little doubt that the existence of the sanctions regimes has, at the very least, acted as a serious disincentive to overseas banks and investors...Taken together, these and other unintended side-effects will in turn inevitably have had a negative impact on the economy at large, with possibly quite serious ramifications for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable populations who have also had to cope with the political instability and violence as well as a severe drought."

“The issues relating to the individuals targeted by the sanctions will, I hope – assuming there is sufficient evidence – one day be sorted out in a court of law, which is the proper place to deal with serious crimes. In the meantime, I would urge those countries that are currently applying sanctions on Zimbabwe to suspend them, at least until the conduct and outcome of the elections and related reforms are clear,”UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

Pillay noted progress in women’s rights, citing achievements in the increased number of women judges in the Supreme Court and women ministers as well as senior public officials.  But she also noted that maternal mortality and sexual and domestic violence has worsened in the past two decades.

“…maternal mortality has worsened steadily over the past two decades from 283 deaths per 100,000 births in 1994 to around 960 per 100,000 in 2010-2011. The figure has risen by more than 40 per cent in the past six years alone,” Pillay said.

Nevertheless, the UN Human Rights Chief says there are reasons to remain optimistic.

“… Several people told me they believe that if the country can get through the next 18 months or so without another political and human rights disaster, then it could finally turn the corner towards renewed stability and prosperity.”

At the end of her mission she also expressed concern over the country’s legislation on sexual orientation noting that the international principle of non-discrimination is included in the current Zimbabwean Constitution, as well as in international treaties to which the country is party to.

In a lecture at the University of Zimbabwe Pillay addressed the contentious land rights issue saying: I support the basic principle of land reform, and I am happy that many small farmers have now managed to acquire viable farms… It is vital that such a process is carried out transparently and with clear criteria that are in full accordance with international norms and standards. . . . Under the GPA, the parties also agreed to ensure that all eligible citizens who want to have land can do so, and that each individual will be considered without bias. I urge the Inclusive Government to take further steps to carry out these and other key reforms laid down in the GPA.”

She added: “legal security of tenure means that, regardless of the type of tenure of an individual or a group (owner, renter or even without a formal title), everyone should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.”

Earlier in her visit she met, separately, with the country’s president Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. She urged them to ensure the upcoming elections will be free from violence and fair.

Pillay also met with members of the civil society during her five-day visit to the Southern African country.

“A vibrant civil society is a crucial part of any democratic society’s development, in all spheres including human rights, and it should be strongly supported even if some of its messages make uncomfortable reading for those in authority,” Pillay said at a press conference at the end of her visit.

29 May 2012

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