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Zimbabwe Justice Minister Under Fire For Rejecting Reform Amendments

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told a UN human rights conference in Geneva this week that the government will not make any changes to the Public Order and Security Act and other 'justified' security laws

Zimbabwean civil society organizations and human rights activists on Wednesday voiced outrage at statements by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa before a UN forum ruling out the amendment of security and media legislation. They warned that to go into the next elections without changes will lead to another disputed outcome as in 2008.

Chinamasa declared Monday at a UN human rights conference in Geneva that the government will not make any changes to the Public Order and Security Act, which critics say Zimbabwean police have long exploited to harass opponents of the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe.

He added that there were no plans to amend the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act despite provisions in the 2008 Global Political Agreement saying amendments were needed to level the playing field for political parties.

Chinamasa said the two laws are “justified.” In closing remarks Wednesday to the UN working group conducting a periodic review of human rights in Zimbabwe, Chinamasa reiterated that ZANU-PF will not budge on reforming the controversial laws.

Fifty-five member countries attending the Geneva meeting put forward 179 rights recommendations for Zimbabwe, of which Chinamasa accepted 81, saying Zimbabwe was only accepting proposals from developing countries, not the West.

Some of the recommendations he rejected included a call by countries including Zambia for Harare to subscribe to international statutes against torture and the Rome statute establishing the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Director Mcdonald Lewanika, in Geneva, said civil society is disappointed and that Chinamasa’s position shows ZANU-PF opposes real reform.

"That Chinamasa rejected proposals from Zambia yet he's saying they're accepting proposals from the non-aligned movement and other developing countries shows the hypocrisy within ZANU-PF," Lewanika told reporter Sandra Nyaira.

Civic groups and rights activists say that unless POSA and AIPPA are overhauled along with other legislation including in particular the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (often used to block release on bail) Zimbabwe’s next election will not be free or fair as police will continue using the laws to curtail non-ZANU-PF political activity.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said Chinamasa's comments reflect the party's position.

Thabitha Khumalo, a spokeswoman for the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says her party won’t participate in elections if its activities are circumscribed by authorities as they were in previous elections.

In run-up to the 2008 elections police frequently blocked MDC meetings and rallies.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Executive Director Irene Petras said civic groups are outraged as free and fair elections cannot be held unless laws are reformed.

Rights activist and political commentator Effie Dlela Ncube told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that ZANU-PF cannot win an election without POSA and other draconian security laws in place, hence its resistance to reform of those laws.