Zimbabwe: Pan-African Parliament to send fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe

HARARE, 14 May 2007 (IRIN) - The African Union's Pan-African Parliament (PAP) has resolved to send a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe after widespread reports of state violence against journalists, students, lawyers, civil society and the political opposition.

On Friday a proposal to dispatch a fact-finding mission, made by Suzanne Vos, a South African member of the African parliament, was overwhelmingly endorsed by a show of hands, in which 149 members approved the motion, while 29, comprising mostly the Zimbabwean delegation, voted against it.

The composition of the delegation and when it will depart is yet to be decided, but is unlikely to receive a warm welcome. "The Pan African Parliament is just a noise-making body with no legislative powers," said Jorum Gumbo, a PAP member and senior official of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party. "In any case, we can always bar the mission from coming into Zimbabwe."

The secretary-general of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Tendai Biti, told IRIN that the African Union could bring an end to the increasing levels of repression if they spoke out against President Robert Mugabe's government.

"It is imperative that African leaders, in particular the African Union and SADC [Southern African Development Community] take note and do not turn a blind eye to the current crisis in our country," Biti said. "We respectfully ask the African Union leaders to call for an extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe, which is long overdue, to condemn these atrocities and put pressure on the regime to stop the onslaught on democratic forces."

The MDC asked South African president Thabo Mbeki, the SADC-appointed facilitator in the Zimbabwean crisis, to acknowledge that no meaningful dialogue would take place "in an environment full of fascism and violence perpetrated by the state".

Since 11 March, when MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other high-ranking opposition party officials were assaulted in police custody, more than 1,000 opposition leaders, employees and supporters have been arrested and detained by the government on allegations of receiving military training in South Africa to embark on terrorist activities in Zimbabwe.

The MDC have contended that the crackdown was a clear indication that next year's poll, which will harmonise presidential and legislative elections, would be marred by violence.

"The rigging process has already started," Biti alleged. "It will not help for observers to come a day before elections, go and observe people voting, and then retreat to their hotels."

He said observers needed to be deployed now, so that they could see the levels of intimidation and violence being used by the government against the opposition.

Two MDC supporters were also shot dead by police on 11 March, and journalist Edward Chikomba was subsequently abducted and murdered by persons unknown after he provided the foreign press, which is banned in Zimbabwe, with images of the beaten opposition and civic society leaders.

Student leaders have been arrested after protesting against poor conditions at universities, while nurses and doctors have resumed strike action, and lawyers acting on behalf of arrested opposition members have been summarily arrested and detained.

Lawyers who marched in protest after their colleagues were arrested, were beaten by police, among them Beatrice Mtethwa, president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

The beatings prompted the SADC Lawyers Association to visit Zimbabwe last week to meet with the attorney-general, senior officials in the ministry of justice, judges and police officers, to express their concern over the treatment of lawyers.

Zimbabwe's information minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, told IRIN that he was not aware of any violence against the opposition. "That is not government position, to beat up the opposition; we want a peaceful and democratic election. The problem is that some opposition supporters provoke the police in a bid to attract international attention and then claim human rights abuses."