ZIMBABWE has agreed to respond in seven days to a severe indictment of its governance record by the African Union’s Commission on Human and People’s Rights. After that the report will be fina
lised for presentation to AU member states.
The move comes in the wake of remarks made by United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan – widely seen as thinly-veiled criticism of President Mugabe as well as other intractable rulers – at the opening of this week’s AU summit in Addis Ababa.
“Let us pledge that the days of indefinite one-man or one-party governments are behind us,” Annan said to applause.
“There is no greater wisdom and no clearer mark of statesmanship than knowing when to pass the torch to a new generation.”
The report by the AU commission, which visited the country in June 2002, was “noted” by foreign ministers last Saturday although its publication was suspended to allow Harare the right of reply.
The report slammed “blatant human rights abuses, a flurry of repressive legislation, political violence… torture… and arbitrary arrests of journalists…opposition MPs and human rights lawyers”.
Foreign minister Stan Mudenge has agreed to respond in seven days after he protested that Zimbabwe had not been given an opportunity to defend itself. He claimed the report had been submitted to the wrong ministry. It has been gathering dust at the Ministry of Justice.
There were also angry protests from Information minister Jonathan Moyo who claimed the opposition MDC, which described the report as a “breath of fresh air”, had “smuggled” the issue onto the agenda at the behest of British prime minister Tony Blair.
He also attacked former Law Society of Zimbabwe president Sternford Moyo whom he accused of “unashamedly” using his position to misrepresent information on Zimbabwe.
The senior lawyer this week declined to become embroiled in a public brawl with Moyo.
“The false and defamatory attack on me by the Minister of State for Information and Publicity is so outrageous as to be unworthy of any substantive response,” he said.
Annan’s audience included Mugabe – Africa’s oldest president – and other continental strongmen such as President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Gabon’s Omar Bongo.
Annan said African leaders must stop resisting democracy and embrace regular free and fair elections, a credible opposition whose role was respected, an independent judiciary that upholds the rule of law, a free and independent press, effective civilian control over the military and a vibrant civil society.
Mugabe has in the past claimed such issues are “peripheral and extraneous”.
The AU re-port contradicted Zimba-bwe’s persistent assertions that complaints of human rights abuses are sponsored by the West.
Mudenge accused the AU commissioners of being “Blair’s messengers”. While he claimed Harare was “not given the time” to formally respond to the report, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said government had been sitting on it since February 5 – others say much longer.
Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube said it would be sad if AU leaders just “drink tea” and let Mugabe off the hook. They were dealing with a “deceitful” regime, he said.
Observers said Mugabe’s comfort zone at African summits is fast diminishing as the continent’s leaders begin to speak out against dictatorship and human rights abuses.
He was once again in the limelight at the summit – for all the wrong reasons as news of the report’s disclosures haunted the Zimbabwe delegation by dominating news from the summit.
Diplomatic sources say Mugabe could experience further discomfort at next month’s Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit in Mauritius which will discuss the conduct of elections in the region.
Sources say Zanu PF was recently forced to adopt electoral reforms by sustained regional and domestic pressure.
The Human Rights NGO Forum said it was reliably informed on February 5 2004 that the fact-finding mission report was with the government of Zimbabwe and would be published, together with the comments of the government, as soon as these were received.
While it was the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs that was delegated by government in 2002 to co-ordinate the agenda for the fact-finding mission of the African Commission, the rules of the commission are silent on the ministry to which a mission report should be submitted stating only that the commission must submit reports to the relevant member states.