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(Johannesburg) – Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should address the worrying human rights situations in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Angola, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to Dr. Tomaz Salomã o, the executive secretary. Human Rights Watch also urged SADC leaders, at their meeting in Luanda, Angola from August 16 to 18, 2011, to promote and strengthen the human rights mandate of the regional tribunal, rather than weaken it.

Human Rights Watch urged SADC leaders to call for an independent, transparent investigation into the killings and use of excessive force in Malawi. On July 20, security forces there fired live ammunition at mainly peaceful demonstrators protesting worsening economic and human rights conditions. Nineteen people were killed. Human Rights Watch also called for a review of the human rights situation in Swaziland, where authorities have similarly used repressive tactics to clamp down on political activism.

“The SADC needs to implore its members to heed the complaints of Southern Africans, rather than to try to silence them with bullets,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “To promote good governance and development, the SADC should protect people’s right to gather and to speak their minds.”

Human Rights Watch also called on SADC leaders to press both Zimbabwe and Angola to improve human rights conditions in advance of possible elections in both countries in 2012. Since January 2011, throughout Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous incidents of politically motivated violence by the dominant party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and its allies against real or perceived supporters of its governing partner, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). ZANU-PF-controlled police have arbitrarily arrested scores of civil society activists and routinely threatened and harassed MDC members and supporters.

In Angola, the authorities restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as media freedoms, despite a new 2010 constitution that guarantees these rights.

“The SADC should be mobilizing now to ensure that resources are available for the long-term monitoring of elections in Angola and Zimbabwe,” Bekele said. “The potential for abuse – before, during, and after the elections – is very real.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about attempts by the regional body to weaken the human rights mandate of the SADC tribunal, which has made a number of landmark judgments against the government of Zimbabwe on farm seizure cases. The SADC has extended a review of the tribunal’s record, has failed to renew terms for its judges, and has placed a moratorium on hearing new cases. The SADC came under pressure from the government of Zimbabwe to review the mandate of the tribunal following its rulings in favor of farmers who lost their farms as a result of the government of Zimbabwe’s land seizures.

“The SADC tribunal is an important institution for the protection and promotion of human rights,” Bekele said. “To promote the rule of law, SADC leaders should strengthen this body, not undermine it.” 

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