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UN Faulted Over Response to Union Beatings, Positioning In Harare

Though the United Nations country team in Zimbabwe has gone on record deploring police beatings of Zimbabwean trade union officials earlier this month and has tacitly criticized President Robert Mugabe's subsequent remarks condoning the violence, some observers have taken the world body to task for taking too long to react.

Public comments by the U.N. country team in Harare Thursday came more than two weeks after the September 13 beatings of 17 officials of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions following their attempted protest march in the capital.

Support for the ZCTU officials had come from many other organizations, not only trade unions but rights groups like Amnesty International, but until September 28 not from the United Nations, whose International Labor Organization had yet to comment.

The U.N. country team expressed its "profound sense of dismay" at declarations by "Zimbabwean authorities" - clearly an indirect reference to President Mugabe - that seemed to condone the use of force and torture to put down demonstrations. The country team urged Harare to ensure the free exercise of basic freedoms.

VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe sought perspective on the matter from Nairobi-based rights activist Brian Kagoro, who said the U.N. statement was too little too late.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials in Harare were on the defensive in a separate matter to do with Harare's proposal for a national human rights commission. Some civic groups have accused U.N. officials of aligning too closely with the government on the idea.

U.N. news agency IRIN quoted U.N. Development Program Resident Representative Agostinho Zacarias as saying that, "The accusation that we are in bed with the government of Zimbabwe is unfounded and in bad faith."

He continued: "Containment and isolation of the government is not our strategy. We are not selectively consulting NGOs - everyone and anyone can participate. We believe in a policy of engaging the government and the civil society."

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has accused the agency of being soft on Harare and refused to join consultative meetings other NGOs on creating the rights commission - particularly in light of the recent beatings of the trade union officials.

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