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Zim NGOs Dispatch Delegation to AU Banjul Conference

Human rights groups in Zimbabwe have dispatched a delegation to Banjul, Gambia, to the 54th session of the African Union Commission on Human Rights, urging it to put pressure on President Robert Mugabe’s government to respect and introduce democratic reforms.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, in a letter to the Commission’s chairperson Catherine Dupe Atoki, are protesting what they call the “continuing shrinkage of the democratic space in the country.”

The rights groups accuse the government of continuing to persecute them through prosecution. They also accuse police of outlawing peaceful protests by attacking and arresting protesters including women. They took a swipe at the government for introducing snooping laws that they say infringe on people’s freedoms.

“The persecution through prosecution of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe continues to be of grave concern as it reflects the perpetuation of the states’ hostility towards civil society. For instance the case of a prominent human rights defender, Beatrice Mtetwa, who was arrested in March for allegedly obstructing the course of justice is still before the courts of law,” reads part of the letter.

The letter also calls on the commission to nudge Harare to urgently align national laws to the provisions of the new constitution and operationalize independent commissions.

It adds that “the Forum on behalf of civil society organisations in Zimbabwe, acknowledging the invaluable role that the Commission has played and still continues to play in ensuring that Zimbabwe adheres to the principles of good governance, and the respect of human rights, urges the Commission to ensure that the government of Zimbabwe addresses these issues.

"In particular, the urgent need to align national laws to the provisions of the new constitution, operationalise the independent commissions especially the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission as a matter of urgency, improve service delivery in all sectors, reign in on the errant land grabbing and unlawful farm evictions, stop the retributive attacks on opposition party supporters and the harassment of civil society.”

The protest letter chronicles the failures of the Zimbabwe government in providing basic social services such as the provision of clean and safe water and limited access to basic health care.

The groups say failure by the government to provide basic services recently resulted in about 31,000 residents of Redcliff, being infected by tapeworms.

Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Abel Chikomo said Zimbabwe must respect people’s rights.