Nongovernmental organizations in Zimbabwe are demanding that Harare cease what they contend are continuing serious violations of human rights before they will agree to cooperate in setting up the human rights commission the government proposes.
Such was the message coming from the margins of a consultative meeting concerning the controversial human rights commission in progress Friday in Kariba, in northern Zimbabwe, though officially there was a media gag on the proceedings there.
Human rights have come to center stage in Zimbabwe in recent days following the severe beatings administered to trade union officials on September 13, allegedly at the hands of police and security agents. President Robert Mugabe, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, said "overzealous" police were to blame.
NGOs also want assurances from the government that it will repeal laws including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which rights advocates inside and outside the country have denounced as repressive. The government is now pushing ahead with a law that would let it monitor phone and Internet communications.
Civil society sources added that the government is also putting pressure on NGOs to give up funding from outside the country, especially from Britain and the United States, which according to authories puts a suspicious light on their activities.
Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his organization wants Harare to show it is serious about human rights before civil society engages on the creation of a state-sponsored human rights organization.
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