by Chenai Maramba
HARARE - A human rights group has accused Zimbabwe army soldiers of violating human rights, as the United States said Harare must show greater respect for people's basic rights and freedoms before sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his allies can be removed.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) that monitors rights abuses in the southern African country said soldiers, police, war veterans and youth militia have led a campaign of violence and intimidation to force citizens to back the views of President Robert Mugabe on the proposed new constitution.
The group said in a its latest report released at the weekend: "For the other most volatile provinces of Masvingo, Midlands and Mashonaland Central, the levels of violations remained almost constant with sporadic incidents of physical violence.
"The main perpetrators of the violations recorded in August have been war veterans, ZANU PF youth militias, chiefs, police officers and serving members of the Zimbabwe National Army."
Zimbabwe is writing a new constitution as part of reforms agreed by Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to strengthen democracy in the country.
But an exercise to gather public views to be put in the constitution has been marred by reports of violence and widespread intimidation blamed on ZANU PF supporters wanting to pressure Zimbabweans to support a new constitution that will not bar Mugabe from standing for re-election, while banning the post of Prime Minister.
Public hearings had to be called off in Harare and the nearby dormitory town of Chitungwiza after violence broke out during meetings more than a week ago leaving at least one person dead and scores of others injured.
Tsvangirai last week accused the military of intimidating Zimbabweans during the countrywide public hearings and charged that the process to gather citzens' vies on the new constitution was not credible, in his clearest indication yet that his MDC party may reject the outcome on the new charter.
And the US State Department on Sunday the Harare unity government must do more to protect human rights and political freedoms for the visa and financial sanctions against Mugabe, his top lieutenants and about 200 companies linked to his ZANU PF party.
In a statement after its top official for Africa met three Zimbabwean ministers last Thursday, the department said it had acknowledged the reforms that have helped stabilise Zimbabwe's economy but said little has changed on the political front.
The department said: "As long as human rights violations, land seizures, and intimidation of those participating in the political process continue, the sanctioned individuals and entities on the list who continue to perpetrate and benefit from these acts are unlikely to be removed."
Zimbabwe has a notorious history of political violence and human rights abuses since independence in 1980 but perpetrators, mostly from ZANU-PF and the security forces, have never been punished.
The government has said the new Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission will probe only human rights abuses committed after December 2008, effectively sweeping under the carpet gross abuses committed since independence and before. - ZimOnline.