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Zimbabwe: Whatever election date, human rights monitors vital

Zimbabwe’s government must ensure there is no repeat of the violence that marred the presidential elections in 2008, Amnesty International warned today as the country’s leaders publicly disputed the date the 2013 vote should be held.

During the 2008 elections more than 200 people were killed and thousands injured and displaced. Many of those targeted were human rights defenders and civil society activists who play a crucial role in exposing abuses and supporting victims of human rights violations. So many people were beaten that hospitals ran out of crutches.

Amnesty International’s Africa director Netsanet Belay said:

“Whatever date is decided for the election, the government’s absolute priority must be making sure the violence that erupted during the 2008 vote is not repeated.

“All the rights enshrined in Zimbabwe’s new constitution must be respected by the security forces. This is especially important in view of the role they played in organising violence against perceived political opponents of the then government in 2008.

“The rights to freedom of assembly for all must be respected. Police must not arbitrarily apply provisions of the Public Order and Security Act to stop meetings of civil society groups and other political parties as has happened previously.”

However, in recent months there has been a crackdown on civil society in Zimbabwe with the arrest of activists, including prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, and the raiding of NGO offices. Shortwave radios have been banned in an apparent attempt at curbing access to news sources other than official state outlets. Amnesty is concerned this clampdown could intensify as the election date approaches.

In 2008, it was the intervention of Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the Southern African Development Community that stemmed the bloodshed. This time, Amnesty wants them to use their influence to prevent the violence from happening in the first place, including by deploying human rights monitors to oversee the period before, during and after the elections.

The SADC will meet on Saturday in Maputo, Mozambique to review the electoral process in Zimbabwe.

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