Thursday, February 28, 2013

(NEWZIMBABWE) UN experts sound rights concern

UN experts sound rights concern
27/02/2013 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

UNITED Nations monitors on Wednesday urged Zimbabwe to live up to international human rights standards, voicing concerns over violations ahead of next month's constitutional referendum and elections expected in July.

The trio of monitors, who oversee countries' respect for freedom of assembly and expression and the treatment of human rights campaigners, said in a statement that they wanted to raise the alarm amid increasing reports of intimidation and harassment, physical violence and arrests.

Zimbabwe votes next month on a new constitution drafted by the uneasy unity government of veteran President Robert Mugabe and his arch-rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Past elections have been marred by killings, assault and intimidation, with Tsvangirai's supporters being most of the victims of the 2008 violence, and members of his Movement for Democratic Change have again faced attacks in recent weeks.

“In the context of proposed constitutional reforms and the elections, it is disturbing and shocking to learn that civil society organisations that have been operating for years, including election monitoring groups which aim to promote free and fair elections, have been searched by police,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.

“Search procedures must not be applied selectively, and the right to privacy needs to be respected. Otherwise, the independence of associations and the safety of their members will be seriously at risk.”
Margaret Sekaggya, the world body's monitor on the treatment of human rights campaigners, also sounded the alarm.

“With the referendum less than two weeks away, human rights defenders who promote participation have a critical role to play,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.
“They must be protected by the Government and attempts to stifle criticism must end.”

Zimbabwean authorities claim Western nations with a political agenda are behind the campaign groups that have faced a crackdown.

The UN monitors also voiced their concern at police use of force against, and arrests of, peaceful protesters taking part, and handing out roses and teddy bears, at a Valentine’s Day protest outside Zimbabwe's parliament on February 14.

Freedom of expression monitor Frank La Rue said Zimbabwe must ensure that "everyone is guaranteed the right to speak freely without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation".

“The ongoing practice of arrests against the activists could seriously hamper the right to freedom of expression,” he said.

“The Zimbabwean authorities must ensure that such measures are applied in accordance with international standards and everyone is guaranteed the right to speak freely without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation.”

Since the official announcement of the referendum date there has been an increase in attacks against civil society actors, and the three Rapporteurs expressed serious alarm at this development.

“We urge the authorities to take all relevant measures to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, in view of the recurrence of acts of intimidation and harassment against those exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, which are essential components of democracy,” they said, adding that they stand ready to provide assistance to contribute to the protection of fundamental freedoms.

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