afrol News, 15 January - Zimbabwe's neighbouring countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have presented a list of actions the government has to take to reduce political tension before the March presidential elections. The SADC summit expressed "serious concern" at several developments.
The 14 SADC countries yesterday broke with the line of "quiet diplomacy" towards the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, which threatens to undermine the stability of the entire southern African zone.
Following an eight hours closed meeting, where Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe participated most of the time, a statement with SADC demands was read out to the press in Malawi. Zimbabwe had agreed to "undertake" the "following actions":
The Zimbabwean government is to pay "full respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of opinion, association and peaceful assembly for all individuals." This promise contradicts the row of laws recently approved or to be approved by the Zimbabwean parliament, curtailing these same rights in advance of the election.
Zimbabwe agreed to "the commitment to investigate fully and impartially all cases of alleged political violence in 2001 and action to do so," the statement said. The country already is marred by political violence conducted by governing ZANU-PF party activists, actions that so far have enjoyed impunity.
Further, the government was to organise a "Zimbabwean Electoral Supervisory Commission which is adequately resourced and able to operate independently," and assure "the accreditation and registration of national independent monitors in good time for the elections; a timely invitation to, and accreditation of a wide range of international election observers," something President Mugabe so far has rejected.
Mugabe also assured his government's "commitment to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of Zimbabwe," and reaffirmed its "practice of allowing national and international journalists to cover important national events, including elections, on the basis of its laws and regulations." This promise is contrary to the highly criticised new 'Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill,' which is expected to be passed by the Zimbabwean Parliament tomorrow.
Mugabe finally assured the "commitment by the government of Zimbabwe to the independence of the judiciary and to the rule of law; and the transfer by the government of Zimbabwe of occupiers of non-designated farms to legally acquired land," the statement said.
It was clear that the SADC summit seriously had criticised the key points of Mugabe's policies. In addition to make the Zimbabwean Head of State promise a higher respect for human rights and law and order, the African leaders also expressed their grave concern with several recent developments.
According to the statement, "The summit expressed serious concern on the statement made by the Zimbabwe army on the outcome of the election and urged the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that, in accordance with the multi-party political dispensation prevalent in SADC, political statements are not made by the military but by political leaders." The army leadership last week indicated it would not accept anybody else than Mr. Mugabe heading the state.
Although the SADC leaders managed to pressure Mugabe into strong verbal commitments, observers doubt the promises will have any effect on developments in Zimbabwe.
Leader of the MDC opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai, was quoted as telling BBC on Tuesday that SADC leaders who met in Malawi were "hypocritical". He said South Africa had the capacity to send the "right" signals to Mugabe. "The threat to undermine the elections by the military, by President Robert Mugabe himself, should actually send shock waves to South Africa and they should say under those circumstances, we are going to cut fuel, we are going to cut transport links," Tsvangirai was quoted as saying. South Africa however still rejects any sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Also human rights groups remained sceptical. "President Robert Mugabe has made promises of human rights reforms to the Commonwealth, to the European Union (EU) and now to SADC - but there is no sign that the war of killings, torture and intimidation against the political opposition is slowing," Amnesty international today commented. "Will SADC verify the promises they have received - and if so, how?" the group asks.
- At the same time as President Robert Mugabe was in Malawi making these promises of improved human rights to the Southern African heads of state, Amnesty answers its own question, "his political party and its militia - the 'war veterans' - attempted the murder of David Mpala, a member of Parliament of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and several opposition activists."
The question was equally well answered by Malawian President Bakili Muluzi at a press conference after the SADC summit. Asked what would happen if Zimbabwe did not comply, President Muluzi said: "Let us give Zimbabwe a chance."
He said he believed that there will be "free and fair elections" in March in Zimbabwe. "So let us wait and see. I can assure you that all of us will take an interest to make sure that whatever has been promised is adhered to," President Muluzi told the press.
In September 2001, Zimbabwe also had pledged to the Commonwealth in Abuja, Nigeria, to restore the rule of law in its country. Those promises were however soon broken. "Indeed, Zimbabwe appeared to increase the state-sponsored violence after the Abuja agreement, including through the deployment of further military-trained militias under the guise of a Youth Service," Amnesty observed.