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Before any resolution, Zimbabwe first needs justice

Published in: The Independent (UK)

Talks in Zimbabwe aimed at breaking the political deadlock in that country cannot succeed unless the human rights violations that are the root cause of the crisis are addressed.

Lead mediator President Thabo Mbeki and other Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders should press Zimbabwe's leadership to address crucial human rights issues prior to any transitional government arising from the current negotiations.

The government of Zimbabwe has committed and continues to commit serious crimes. Multiple Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses ranging from newly elected MDC MPs, councillors, activists, perceived MDC supporters and others demonstrate the serious nature of abuses committed by these militias. They include killings, beatings, abductions and torture.

Despite ongoing negotiations between the two parties, horrific abuses continue. Hundreds of MDC activists who fled the violence before the 27 June runoff remain in hiding while "war veterans" and youth militia continue to terrorise villagers in the rural areas. According to local non-governmental organisations, Zanu-PF and its allies have been implicated in the killing of at least 163 people and the beating and torture of more than 5,000 people over the past three months. Thirty-two of these people were killed after the 27 June runoff, and two since the two parties signed the Memorandum of Understanding. The government has made little effort to dismantle the torture camps that it established in the immediate aftermath of the 29 March elections.

The continued existence of these camps and armed Zanu-PF supporters, youth militia and "war veterans" raises the possibility of further violence and highlights the precarious nature of the human rights situation .

Zimbabwe's long history of impunity for such crimes should not be ignored in the name of political expediency, and should be immediately addressed by the political parties with the help of SADC and the African Union.

SADC leaders should pressure Zimbabwe's leadership to put an immediate end to the violent campaign against MDC supporters.

They should also press the police to dismantle all torture camps and bases and prosecute those responsible for torture and other mistreatment.

The politically motivated arrests of MDC officials serve to undermine Zimbabwe's claims to democracy. The state should halt this campaign and release those arbitrarily detained.

To end the culture of impunity, there should be an effective and impartial investigation of the abuses that have occurred to bring perpetrators to justice.

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