BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE United Nations Human Rights Council will dispatch special rapporteurs to Zimbabwe to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by State security agents, Parliament has heard.
Appearing before the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs ministry secretary James Manzou said President Emmerson Mnangagwa has already given the greenlight for the Geneva-based body to visit the country because the government had nothing to hide.
He also said 12 people were killed during the protests against fuel price increases in January, which turned violent. Police have all along insisted that only three people, including a policeman died during the disturbances with human rights groups putting the death toll at 17.
“In terms of human rights, Zimbabwe and the President have nothing to hide. The Human Rights Council in Geneva wants to send special rapporteurs to Zimbabwe and the President has said let them come,” he said.
A report released by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum last month said 17 cases of extra-judicial killings allegedly committed by the army had been recorded since January 14 when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and other social movements organised a nationwide stayaway to protest against a steep increase in fuel prices.
Local human rights groups said since January 14, they had documented at least 1 803 violations committed by the security forces across the country.
They include at least 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including dog bites, 954 arrests and detention (including dragnet arrests), among other violations.
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The Kindness Paradza-led committee asked the Foreign Affairs secretary to explain Zimbabwe’s tarnished image given the post-election killings on August 1 last year, which left six people dead and the January disturbances.
But Manzou painted a rosy picture of Zimbabwe’s human rights record and re-engagement efforts with the international community.
He said since the November 2017 coup when former President Robert Mugabe was removed from power, Mnangagwa had made great strides in re-engagement with the international community and promoting democracy.
Paradza said Manzou must explain to Parliament if the re-engagement efforts were succeeding, and whether the Foreign Affairs ministry was visible given that after the re-engagement processes the United States had renewed sanctions against government.
“Indeed, we are making progress and successes in terms of re-engagement, which is not a one-day affair, and on the renewal of Zidera (Zimbabwean Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) and European Union measures on Zimbabwe, there are various delegations that have visited and they want to open a new page and foreign policy re-engagement has been visible,” Manzou said.
“In the new dispensation, communication between the Foreign Affairs ministry and embassies has improved 100% and we speedily arranged meetings concerning the (Kgalema) Motlanthe (commission of inquiry) report and the January events with diplomats to indicate what was happening, and Zimbabwean ambassadors abroad were also under strict instruction to brief their host countries.
“President Mnangagwa also felt the need to brief his colleagues in the region in terms of what was happening in Zimbabwe and there is regular communication. The total number of people who died was 12.”
On re-entry to the Commonwealth, Manzou said during the first half of 2019 the grouping of former British colonies will visit Zimbabwe and thereafter there will be two other stages of engagement before the Zimbabwean issue goes to summit level.
“Our re-engagement efforts with the Commonwealth are on course, but there are steps to be taken before any conclusion can be made. The Commonwealth was here in July 2018 and they observed our elections and they gave us feedback which is under consideration by the Cabinet committee,” he said.
Manzou claimed that Mnangagwa had managed to open up the democratic space in Zimbabwe and that during the 2018 elections, the President invited the European and Commonwealth observers among others to observe Zimbabwe’s July 30 2018 elections.
Manzou said sanctions were hurting Zimbabwe by impeding investments and credit lines, as well as painting a bad image of the country. On the diaspora policy, Manzou said his ministry now had a broader database of diasporans and was considering having a diaspora conference once a year.
In a statement read on behalf, Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo said the country was on track in terms of foreign policy to promote the country’s political and economic interests as well as Zimbabwe’s international image. Moyo said this has been evidenced by Mnangagwa’s numerous visits to different countries in Eurasia, Asia and Africa to strengthen bilateral ties.