Can Zimbabwe heal without addressing human rights abuses?

Amnesty’s head Irene Khan has just returned from Zimbabwe where she held a series of meetings with senior government figures, including Vice President Joice Mujuru, the Defence Minister and the Home Office Ministers.  

Although Irene Khan didn’t meet with President Mugabe – some report that he was too worried about the implications of such a meeting (!) – on Monday she will meet Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who begins his Europe visit today.   

The purpose of Amnesty’s high-level mission was to engage in constructive dialogue with the newly formed government and to urge it  to place human rights at the core of its agenda.

For Amnesty, the outcome was somewhat disappointing.  Essentially the message from the government was that addressing human rights abuses past or present wasn’t a priority.  As the Telegraph reports, Amnesty said the government is ‘ignoring human rights concerns for the sake of political expediency.’

Judging by the way riot police broke up a peaceful demonstration of women protestors just 50 metres away from Amnesty’s press conference in Harare yesterday, this seems a pretty accurate assessment.  

According to the Times, five women and a photographer were arrested and thrown into a police pick-up truck.  The photographer was the only one who was later freed and said that police beat them and kicked them while they were lying on the floor of the truck.   Women of Zimbabwe Arise regularly face such resistance to their protests. You can take action to support these brave women here.  

Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper reports that the Vice President Joice Mujuru told Amnesty’s Secretary-General that Zimbabwe had begun a programme of ‘national healing’.

The new government may believe that (and perhaps has forgotten to tell the riot police) but Amnesty would argue that real reconciliation can only successfully be brought about if previous human rights abuses are adequately addressed, if perpetrators are held to account and if there is an end to further attacks on human rights, such as freedom of expression and association.

There are certainly some members of the government – some Zanu-PF and some MDC – who really desire that kind of change, but on the whole Zimbabwe has a long way to go before we can really say that it a country that is healing.

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