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NGOs Say SADC Should Prioritize Human Rights Issues

Mr. Mugabe takes over the rotational chair of the group from Malawian President Peter Mutharika

Some local and international human rights groups have urged the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) leaders to prioritize human rights and poverty reduction issues as the regional heads of state and government prepare to meet in the resort town of Victoria Falls this weekend.

As regional leaders meet in Victoria Falls this weekend for the 34th SADC Heads of State and Government Summit, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights programs manager, Dzimbahwe Chimbga, says the leaders should look for ways to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and other countries in the regional bloc.

Chimbga told a news conference in Harare on Thursday that the country’s human rights situation remains a cause for concern even after the July 31st elections that saw Zanu PF winning a parliamentary majority over opposition MDC formations.

Amnesty International’s Southern Africa director, Deprose Muchena, also urged President Robert Mugabe to listen to other leaders in the regional grouping when Zimbabwe assumes the chairmanship of the bloc at the pending summit.

Mr. Mugabe takes over the rotational chair of the group from Malawian President Peter Mutharika.

Muchena said the 34th SADC Summit should also seek to address unemployment, poverty, and economic problems in the southern African region.

Meanwhile, Chimbga said Mr. Mugabe should address the problems in Zimbabwe first before seeking to deal with other nations, saying that charity begins at home. The ZLHR programs manager urged Mr. Mugabe to engage the opposition in trying to address political and socio-economic problems affecting the country.

Since the holding of the disputed July 31st polls, MDC-T leader and former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been calling for national dialogue but Mr. Mugabe’s Zanu PF party maintains the opposition should first admit that last year’s national elections were free, fair and credible.

But Chimbga says Mr. Mugabe should now engage the opposition in his new capacity as chairperson of SADC after the Victoria Falls Summit.

Human Rights Watch’s Southern Africa director, Tiseke Kasambala, said problems in the region can only be resolved if the civil society and the media are allowed to operate freely.

The weekend SADC Summit will be held under the theme; ‘SADC Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Beneficiation and Value Addition’.

Foreign Affairs ministers have already started meeting the Victoria Falls ahead of the weekend summit. NGOs are also meeting separately in Bulawayo.