Irene Khan, the first secretary general of the human rights watchdog to visit Zimbabwe, complained that the southern African country’s four-month-old unity government was not pursuing human rights abusers.
"Progress on human rights has been woefully slow. Although the level of political violence is significantly lower than last year, the human rights situation remains precarious," Khan told reporters after six days in Zimbabwe.
Minutes after she spoke and just a few hundred yards (meters) away, police beat peaceful protesters from local human rights groups.
Khan had been promised a meeting with Mugabe during her visit but didn’t get one — even though the longtime, increasingly autocratic leader was championed as an Amnesty "prisoner of conscience" during his anti-colonial campaign in the 1960s and ’70s.
Khan was to see Mugabe’s former rival and current governing partner, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, on Friday in London. Tsvangirai was a trip to Europe and the United States, trying to repair Zimbabwe’s ties with the West and convince potential donors change was coming.
Khan said her delegation found, after talks with officials in the coalition from both Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, "no real sense of urgency to bring about human rights changes."
"Senior ministers confirmed that addressing impunity is not a priority for the government right now," she said.
No serious efforts were made to reform security and military services accused of intimidating and attacking Mugabe’s opponents, Khan said.
"No major investigation or prosecution has been brought against those responsible for state-sponsored political violence in recent years. Some elements of ZANU-PF still see the use of violence as a legitimate tool to crush political opponents," she said.
Some officials told Amnesty reform was hindered by the economic meltdown and the lack of resources.
"Ending attacks on human rights defenders, lifting restrictions on the media and allowing public protests do not require money — they only require political will," Khan said. "Lack of resources is no excuse."
Police broke up a peaceful demonstration in the nation’s second city of Bulawayo on Wednesday and seven demonstrators were still in jail Thursday, she said.
WOZA, the organization that staged the Bulawayo protest, said Thursday that lawyers secured the release of one of eight arrested Wednesday because he was on anti-AIDS medication, but all eight were expected to appear in court Friday on charges of disturbing the peace. WOZA said more members were beaten and at least six arrested during a march in Harare Thursday.
Seven activists of Tsvangirai’s party who disappeared during a series of abductions allegedly committed by Mugabe’s security agents last year, are still missing. The Home Affairs ministry in charge of police told Khan they were not found in police custody.
Prosecutions also are continuing against 15 political activists abducted and held in isolation, some for several months, Khan said. There also has been intimidation, harassment and threats against human rights activists, journalists and lawyers, she said.