Robert Mugabe finally agrees to UN Human Right Chief visit

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Judge Navanethem Pillay, is awaiting finalisation of dates (and visas) for her visit to Zimbabwe following agreement with President Robert Mugabe and Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa, that she can undertake the fact-finding mission that Zimbabwean civil society has been clamoring for.

The recently-appointed former South African Judge, Navanethem Pillay, confirmed this in an interactive dialogue with a civil society delegation from Zimbabwe, her own staff in Geveva, and several Independent UN Experts and international NGOs concerned with the situation in Zimbabwe.

Marlon Zakeyo of the Zimbabwe Advocacy Office, Geneva reported that ten activists from the leading civil society ngos had recently returned to Zimbabwe after an intensive 10th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, hosted by the Geneva-based Zimbabwe Advocacy Office over 2 weeks.

The delegation voiced is support for her proposed fact-finding visit to the country "as a matter of urgency" and also asked for the deployment of a UN Human Rights mechanism to Zimbabwe to help provide technical assistance and capacity-building for human rights defenders and state institutions such as the police and judiciary.

They also asked the Human Rights Commissioner’s office expertise on questions of constitutional processes and transitional justice – issues which are currently bogging down Zimbabwe’s transition to democracy.

Judge Pillay informed the meeting that she had received assurances from President Mugabe and Chinamasa that she could enter the country. Her office now awaits finalisation of the dates. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) updated the Human Rights Council on the cases of political abductees and on a Zimbabwean civil society initiative to monitor the implementation of the Global Political Agreement between Zimbabwe’s three leading political parties.

The civil society monitoring initiative is expected to issue its first monthly report next week.

The civil society organisations also hoped that previous requests by Independent UN Experts such as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the Working Group on the use of Mercenaries and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women – all of whom have been denied access, would now be allowed to conduct human rights missions in Zimbabwe.

The South African Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Dr Glaudine Mtshali, was present when the Zimbabwean delegation’s spokesperson, McDonald Lewanika, asked the African countries which helped Zimbabwean’s politicians to craft the current political agreement to help ensure that Zimbabwe’s political leaders move urgently to resolve outstanding issues in the implementation of the Global Political Agreement.

Lewanika also expressed civil society’s calls for full restoration of the rule of law, ensuring full access to food, water and health services and an end to attacks on human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

Apparently the first-ever meeting between a civil society delegation to the Human Rights Council and the Zimbabwean Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva also took place, with Ambassador Chitsaka Chipaziwa and his staff welcoming the delegation and commiserating over the tragic passing of the wife of Prime Minister Tsvangirai and also the demise of Rtd General Vitalis Zvinavashe, the former commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces.

The meeting prompted the Ambassador to say that over the past few years civil society and government representatives had ‘worked past each other’ at the Human Rights Council, he but hoped that the meeting marked the beginning of a new spirit of "engagement and co-operation."

In response civil society welcomed the Ambassador’s message and reiterated the desire to engage with the government towards seeing a full restoration of Zimbabwe to the community of nations, to the rule of law, self-sufficiency and prosperity.

But with attitudes such as that of Chinamasa in another encounter with the Human Rights Commission, is difficult to see this materializing. All he could muster up was words to complain that "certain powerful countries" – obvious reference to the US and Britain, unfairly condemn Zimbabwe’s human-rights record, while overlooking the faults of their friends and themselves.

For the removal of doubt he went on:"We are not saying be silent if you see us not promoting and respecting and protecting human rights. We are only saying we need to hear you loud and clear on all (countries), without favor in respect of human-rights violations."