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Southern African Leaders Missed Opportunity On Zimbabwe - Rights Group

An international human rights organization Tuesday took the leaders of the Southern African Development Community to task for not taking concrete steps during a summit last week in Lusaka, Zambia, to resolve the festering Zimbabwe crisis.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the SADC summit missed an opportunity to reshape the mediation mandate it had given to South African president Thabo Mbeki in March, and address alleged continuing human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

The group said the 14-member regional organization should set clear benchmarks and a firm timeline for conclusion of the crisis mediation initiative.

“It is clear that the negotiations alone will not address the atmosphere of violence and impunity that has developed in the country,” a Human Rights Watch statement said.

It said the human rights situation in Zimbabwe has sharply deteriorated over the past year, alleging that police have made arbitrary arrests, beaten and tortured prisoners, detained hundreds of civic activists, and used excessive force against protesters.

The group said it was "particularly disturbing that SADC leaders continue to categorically fail in acknowledging the central role of Zimbabwe’s grave human rights crisis in the country’s political and economic collapse." Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, SADC's chairman, said the crisis was "exaggerated."

Human Rights Watch Zimbabwe Researcher Tiseke Kasambala told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mbeki must be given a deadline to wrap up the mediation process because elections are nearing and abuses are rising.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...