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Africa | Zimbabwe
Politics | Human rights

AU suspends report on Zimbabwe rights abuses

Misanet / IRIN, 8 July - Civil rights groups in Zimbabwe have expressed disappointment over a decision by the African Union (AU) not to make public a report critical of the country's human rights record. The report had quoted torture, arbitrary arrests and "flurry" press legislation.

African leaders, meeting in Ethiopia this week, adopted the 114-page document regarding human rights in Zimbabwe, but said its publication would be "suspended" until authorities in Zimbabwe had time to respond to the allegations raised.

The report, compiled by the AU Commission on Human and People's Rights two years ago, contains allegations of government complicity in a wide-range of rights abuses, including "the torture and arbitrary arrests of opposition members of parliament and human rights lawyers".

It also noted "a flurry of legislation" that undermined freedom of expression.

AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako on Thursday told journalists that the current political crisis in Zimbabwe was "not the only problem in Africa", and Zimbabwe should not be seen as an "animal to be slaughtered".

- This report should have been submitted with the comments of members states who are party ... who are concerned with this issue, Mr Orjiako added.

Zimbabwean officials have refused to discuss the report, saying that it had been introduced in violation of procedures.

Zimbabwe Minister of State for Information, Jonathan Moyo, reportedly told the state broadcaster that the document had been clandestinely introduced by the opposition, whom he accused of working in concert with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Nathan Shamuyarira, chief spokesman of Zimbabwe's ruling party ZANU-PF, told the UN media IRIN: "The government has not been presented with the report and will need time to assess whether there is any merit to the allegations." He refused to say when, or if, the authorities would respond to the findings of the commission.

Earlier this week a forum of human rights organisations in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, claimed the government was in fact given a copy of the report by the Commission in February this year.

According to a statement released on Wednesday, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said "the requirement by the African Commission to present the report to the [Zimbabwe] government ... was adequately satisfied."

Brian Kagoro, chief executive of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of pro-democracy NGOs, said the failure to table the report was part of a wider "cover-up" strategy by the AU, which would "eventually discredit" the regional group.

- There was a glimmer of hope that African leaders would finally publicly condemn the ongoing human rights violations, but that opportunity has once again been lost, Mr Kagoro said.

- It was hoped that given the failure of domestic remedies [to resolve the political crisis] the continental body would step in, he added. "But the lack of action on the part of the AU is likely to dent its credibility among Africans and the international community. The body now runs the risk of not being taken seriously, much like its predecessor [the Organisation of African Unity]."

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