SADC urged to tie Zimbabwe aid to human rights

Johannesburg – International advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday called on Southern African leaders meeting next week to discuss aid for Zimbabwe to make any rescue package contingent on an end to human rights abuses.

Leaders of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) political and economic bloc are meeting on Monday in Swaziland to consider a request from Zimbabwe’s new unity government for $2bn in short-term aid.

Zimbabwe is desperately in need of aid to rebuild its economy, which has been brought to the brink of collapse by President Robert Mugabe‘s populist rule.

"The government of Zimbabwe should take clear action toward restoring the rule of law and respect for human rights before the international community releases longer-term development aid," HRW Africa director Georgette Gagnon appealed in a statement.

As proof of the culture of impunity that still reigns in Zimbabwe HRW noted that no one had been held accountable for last year’s campaign of violence against supporters of President Robert Mugabe’s rival, current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Nearly 200 Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters were killed and hundreds injured in attacks by pro-Mugabe militia and military to avenge his Zanu-PF party’s defeat in elections.

The violence prompted Tsvangirai to pull out of a run-off presidential ballot against Mugabe in June, paving the way for talks that culminated in an agreement by both men to share power in a coalition government.

Greater political turmoil

"Unless the new power-sharing government promptly brings perpetrators of abuses to account and makes clear that no further abuses will be tolerated, the country risks sliding back to possibly even greater political turmoil," HRW warned.

The New-York-based rights group called on SADC to pressure Zimbabwe into releasing all political prisoners, investigating last year’s post-election violence and ensuring justice for victims.

HRW also called on the interim government, in which Mugabe as president retains much of his power, to create the conditions for free and fair elections within 24 months.

SADC members on Monday are expected to commit some of their own limited resources and appeal for Western support for Zimbabwe, where around 7 million people – nearly half the population – cannot adequately feed themselves.

But Western donors have ruled out pumping large amounts of money into rebuilding the country until they see evidence of real reform.

A new wave of farm invasions, designed to force the last of the few remaining white farmers off their land, has done little to inspire confidence in the 40-day-old administration. – DPA