HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsUN rights chief sets tone for international community engagement on Zim

UN rights chief sets tone for international community engagement on Zim


Zimbabwe’s has been thrust, once again, on to the international spotlight with the visit by the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay. The visit was not without its controversy as the Zanu PF side of the unity government and the State media went into overdrive to stage-manage Pillay’s itinerary, hence influence what she could see and who she could meet. The statement by Pillay at the end of her visit in which she notes the continued state of fear in Zimbabwe, stagnation on key reforms, existence of obnoxious laws that violate human rights, and her call for an end to politically motivated violence is all refreshing.

In essence Pillay’s visit has set the tone for issues that the international community needs to make demands on as part of a continued reform of Zimbabwe’s body politic before the next election.
Pillay ’s visit has thrust Zimbabwe back into the spotlight and civil society and political actors need to take advantage of her statement and her report to ask the dominant political player in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF, and the influential security sector in Zimbabwe to account and reform. This visit must, therefore, not be treated as an event, but the beginning of renewed and direct interaction between Zimbabwe and the international community on the seemingly never-ending man-made crisis.

Pillay’s statement has laid the foundation on all issues that need attention in Zimbabwe, more importantly the need to end violence. Civil society therefore has an obligation to keep the UN fully informed as well as regional bodies, including Sadc, to maintain pressure for a violence-free, peaceful, free and fair election as well as a peaceful power transition should the election outcome indicate so. All this, as Pillay said, should be preceded by the conclusion of the constitution-writing process, referendum and adoption of the new constitution. For Sadc, Pillay’s visit is an endorsement of the Sadc mediation process as led by South African President Jacob Zuma. The tendency to deny the existence of human rights violations in Zimbabwe by some countries in the region is no longer sustainable as the visit exposed the ills in Zimbabwe and endorsed the already publicised solutions to Zimbabwe’s woes. Sadc must, therefore, not feel isolated nor heed Zanu PF’s threats, but act as per the mandate of the Sadc and African Union summits resolutions to find solutions to end Zimbabwe’s crisis.

Again the role of keeping such Sadc states informed now and into the future, rests with civil society. The demand from the citizens of Zimbabwe on Sadc are simply to maintain pressure on the dominant political elite in Zimbabwe and the security sector to maintain peace and ensure that citizens can vote in a free and fair election, nothing more, nothing less. Now shamed and exposed, the writing is surely on the wall for Zanu PF that the world is paying attention.
This brings us to the recent deployment of high-level envoys by President Robert Mugabe to talk to Sadc leaders on his desire for an election in 2012.

Mugabe is reported to have dispatched envoys to Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Tanzania, and might as well be sending others to the rest of Sadc and other key African countries. The message from the President to the Sadc leaders is part of a strategy to seek their support for a 2012 poll.

He will obviously point at the disunity in the misnamed unity government, and the need for one party to win and execute its developmental agenda without having to deal with disruptive dissension.
Mugabe will say there is need for political leaders to have the mandate of the people. This is all well and good, but the environment, as noted by Pillay, is not yet right. Mugabe’s calls are, therefore, insincere and self-serving. This comes as his military generals have vowed violence on his opponents and the electoral system is yet to be reformed. Zimbabweans want elections as soon as possible, but not a sham election in which opponents of Zanu PF are beaten, the voters’ roll manipulated, and in which there is no guarantee for transition in the event of Zanu PF losing.

Elections are not the solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis, but rather an acceptanceby the military and Mugabe that Zanu PF can indeed lose power and be out of government: everything else will follow after that. As long as elections are a mere call to endorse and legitimise Mugabe and Zanu PF, then there is no need for such an election. The two events of last week — Pillay’s visit and Mugabe’s diplomatic charm offensive — are a wake-up call for civil society to up the game.

The UN has set the tone and there is need to keep the international community informed, more importantly to raise awareness on the demands of the people of Zimbabwe, number one, the need for peace, two the need for a free and fair election and a peaceful political transition.

There is need to highlight the human rights violations currently going on. The beating and destruction of property of opponents of Zanu PF, the politicisation ofthe security sector and its public support for Zanu PF, the manipulation of aid to poor communities and the unpreparedness, for an election by such bodies as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission all point to a high state of unpreparedeness for an election.

Unfortunately, all these conditions are created by and favour Zanu PF and Mugabe, hence the insistence on elections.

The opposite of the above should be civil society’s song, to be sung at every given opportunity outside Zimbabwe.
David Mutomba is a Zimbabwean journalist and human rights activist. He can be contacted on wandile@hushmail.com

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