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Visiting U.N. Rights Chief Calls for Activation of Zimbabwe's Rights Commission

The visiting United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, in Harare to assess the rights situation, called on authorities Tuesday to ensure the Human Rights Commission is activated before the next elections.

Addressing journalists after meeting with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Pillay said the commission should be up and running before the nation’s next polls that President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party want held this year.

"This commission is very important and is needed to play a role during the election, and I do appreciate the prime minister's interest in addressing that particular issue," she said.

The commission, which was appointed some time last year, has yet to start operating because parliament is still discussing the Human Rights Commission Bill, which will give it powers to investigate rights violations in the country.

The bill, however, says the new organization cannot deal with past abuses.

Pillay, who also met with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the parliamentary thematic committee on human rights, said her meeting with Mr. Tsvangirai also focused on rights violations that occurred in the run-up to the June 2008 presidential run-off.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tsvangirai said the unity government is doing all it can to ensure that human rights are promoted and protected, especially during election time.

"I must say we raised a number of issues, we explained the situation in the country, before the formation of the GNU and after the formation of the GNU," said Tsvangirai. "There is nothing to hide but also need to highlight there has been progress since the formation of the GNU."

NGO groups that boycotted the parliament meeting, charging that they were not safe at the August house following the violence that ensued last year during the Human Rights Bill public hearings, also met Pillay separately.

Director Abel Chikomo of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said the organizations that included the National Constitutional Assembly and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, managed to present their case to the UN envoy.

But before Pillay could even complete her mission, police besieged the offices of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum in central Harare looking for Chikomo who was not present at the time.

VOA could not independently verify why the police were looking for the rights activist.

Elsewhere, youth organizations have come out against what they say is lack of transparency in commissioner Pillay’s visit, alleging the government is micro-managing her activities in the country.

The organizations say government officials should have given them the opportunity to meet with the rights chief to discuss the situation in the country, as they see it.

Practical Empowerment and Networking Youth Association director Hillary Musarurwa says youths in Zimbabwe have continuously been exploited and not given a proper chance to air their views.

"Its sad that youth have been sidelined once again, yet when politicians want to carry out their acts of violence they put the youth on the forefront," said Musarurwa,

"Its unfortunate when we talk of human rights people look at the political perspective, but we forget the socio-economic rights which are very fundamental in the development of young people."