Pan-African mobilization to target Zimbabwe

Alison Raphael

WASHINGTON, Jul 11 (OneWorld) - Marches, petitions, vigils, and press conferences across Africa are planned for Saturday at the launch of a Pan-African Campaign of Solidarity with Zimbabwe.

Disappointed that their political leaders failed to step up to the plate and condemn Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's brutal tactics during last weekend's African Union (AU) summit in Egypt, civil society groups are mobilizing to express their discontent.

"The widespread killings, torture, and assault of perceived opposition supporters must come to an end in Zimbabwe. Concrete action is long overdue and African leaders must end their silent acquiescence," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International.

Amnesty and two other groups behind the solidarity campaign believe African leaders should "make space" for civil society to play a more active role in Zimbabwe's crisis.

"We are needed now more than ever as millions of people face hunger through growing food insecurity brought on by misgovernance," said Adelaide Sosseh, co-chair of the Gambia office of the Global Call to Action against Poverty, a campaign co-sponsor.

The campaign will put public pressure on regional organizations such as the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to take steps to rein in Mugabe.

Among the main demands to be put forward by the solidarity campaign are the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to explore human rights violations during the election and appointment of monitors to report on ongoing rights abuses, restoration of an independent judiciary, and greater accountability for police and security forces.

In a statement Wednesday, heads of state at the G8 summit of industrialized countries in Japan agreed on the need for independent investigation, calling for the appointment of a UN special envoy to report on the political, humanitarian, human rights, and security situation and support mediation.

Both civil society groups and Western governments had hoped that African leaders gathered at the AU meeting in Egypt would break with tradition and condemn the results of the Jun. 27 election in which Mugabe was the only candidate.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out shortly before the poll due to the extreme levels of violence being perpetrated by police, military forces, and heavily armed vigilantes against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change.

But although a few leaders spoke out against Mugabe, such as Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Botswana's Vice President Mompati Merafhe, who called for suspending Zimbabwe from the AU, others were content merely to call for dialogue between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Meanwhile, reports from Zimbabwe consistently confirm that violence against opposition supporters has intensified since Mugabe was sworn in on Jun. 29.

"The torture camps are still in place, and since the beginning of July three supporters of the MDC have been murdered by ZANU-PF militia and war veterans at the torture camps. Several women, including a 70-year-old grandmother and a 15-year-old girl, have been gang-raped, while beatings and displacements continue. People are being forced to donate goats, cattle, and women...to avoid being victims," according to an MDC parliamentarian interviewed Wednesday by the United Nations' IRIN news service.

Sponsors of the Pan-African solidarity campaign plan to use such tactics as vigils outside Zimbabwean embassies, press conferences, petitions, and meetings with government officials to express their concern about the situation in Zimbabwe and urge African governments to take action.