Zimbabwe on Monday came under intense pressure at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review from some key members of the international community led by South Africa to investigate human rights abuses in the country, particularly the killings in the run-up to the violent 2008 presidential election run-off.
The chorus to investigate rampant human rights violations since 1980, but mainly after 2000, competed in terms of reverberation and intensity with almost hysterical calls by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa for targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted.
In a highly-charged atmosphere, polarised and made more emotional by Chinamasa’s aggression and deafening repetition of the sanctions mantra, countries debating Zimbabwe were divided along ideological and political lines, bringing fissures in global politics and international relations to the fore.
Zimbabwe was widely supported by countries which the United States has described as “outposts of tyranny” — including Iran , Cuba , North Korea and Myanmar ( Burma ).
In scenes reminiscent of the Cold War politics, Zimbabwe also got a lot of support from countries led by China.
Although Russia is seen as part of that group, it tried to steer clear calling for an end to arrests, detentions and disappearances. Syria and Venezuela supported Zimbabwe. The three countries’ judiciary was under scrutiny last Friday.
The US led assaults on Zimbabwe
widely supported by Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Italy, France, Austria, Norway, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Thailand, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Romania. Former eastern bloc countries which overthrew communist regimes were critical of Zimbabwe.
African countries were either muted or supported Zimbabwe, while Latin American countries were neutral or mild in their criticism. Namibia was vocal in Zimbabwe’s support and demanded removal of sanctions.
Chinamasa went to town about sanctions saying they were part of an “illegal regime change agenda” by Western countries.
Chinamasa presented a report claiming Zimbabwe was protecting human rights.
The US and its allies complained about human rights abuses, repressive legislation, restrictions of civil and political liberties, politically-motivated violence, intimidation and killings, selective application of the law, harassment of certain political parties and civil society leaders, media tyranny and impunity.
South Africa set the ball rolling by demanding an investigation into the 2008 killings. Although it was mild on other issues, its call was supported by many countries which said those responsible for human rights violations, including members of the police, intelligence and army, must be punished.
The US attacked Zimbabwe on restrictions of freedom of assembly, association and expression. It demanded the demilitarisation of the Marange diamond fields and a probe into human rights abuses there. Chinamasa claimed there were no abuses at Chiadzwa.
Australia said it was “deeply concerned” about Zimbabwe’s appalling human rights situation, while Canada said the next elections would be a key test for the country. Many countries demanded free and fair elections either next year or in 2013.
Italy raised the issue of complaints of marginalisation in Matabeleland region, while France said Gukurahundi massacres and other recent killings must be investigated.
The US and its allies said Zimbabwe must repeal or amend laws like Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa). Chinamasa justified some Posa and Aippa, saying they were necessary to maintain law and order.
While Zimbabwe tried to justify most of its actions, including land reform and indigenisation on historical grounds, Romania said: “Past injustices will not be redressed by creating new ones.”
Civil society leaders said they were disappointed by Chinamasa’s report which sort to “whitewash” Zimbabwe’s chequered human rights record.
“Chinamasa’s report was disappointing because it glossed over real issues,” said Dewa Mavhinga of Crisis Coalition.
“It betrays lack of political will to address fundamental human rights issues. The minister was unnecessarily aggressive in a bid to cover up issues.”