SADC: Press Zimbabwe to Implement Rights Reforms

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SADC: Press Zimbabwe to Implement Rights Reforms

Southern African Leaders Should Urge End to Politically Motivated Abuses

JOHANNESBURG - Southern African leaders should press Zimbabwe's power-sharing government to end ongoing human rights violations and to implement legal reforms, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Heads of state from members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are holding a summit meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on September 7 and 8, 2009.

The 20-page report, "False Dawn: The Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Government's Failure to Deliver Human Rights Improvements," highlights the transitional government's lack of progress in rights reforms in the six months since it was created. The former ruling party, Zimbabwe Africa National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has demonstrated a lack of political will to effect change and wields more power than the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the former opposition party and now a partner in government. Police, state prosecutors, and court officials aligned to ZANU-PF conduct politically motivated prosecutions of MDC legislators and activists, and fail to ensure justice for victims of abuses or to hold perpetrators of human rights violations to account.

"Southern African leaders should stop looking at Zimbabwe through rose-colored glasses," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The region's leaders need to press Zimbabwe openly and publicly for human rights reforms to prevent the country from backsliding into state-sponsored violence and chaos."

At the summit meeting, heads of state are expected to assess Zimbabwe's compliance with a number of rulings by the SADC Tribunal on illegal land seizures in Zimbabwe. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, the organization's current chairman, is also expected to brief leaders on the progress made by Zimbabwe's power-sharing government, which has been in place since February. The government was created by a SADC-brokered September 2008 agreement, which followed a period when ZANU-PF and its allies unleashed a campaign of violence to prevent an MDC electoral win.

In its new report, Human Rights Watch urged Southern African leaders to extract concrete commitments on human rights from the government of Zimbabwe and to tie them to specific benchmarks for progress within a clear time frame. The summit meeting's participants were also urged to raise concerns about Zimbabwe's failure to enact basic institutional and legislative reforms that would guarantee the rule of law as well as fundamental rights for Zimbabweans.

"SADC leaders should stand with the people of Zimbabwe by calling for urgent reforms to address the country's political and human rights crisis," said Gagnon. "Without these necessary changes, Zimbabwe's inclusive government will continue to be built on sand."

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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