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Human rights violations continue - Amnesty

As Commonwealth ministers began gathering in Harare on Wednesday to discuss with the Zimbabwean government the implementation of the Abuja agreement on land reform, Amnesty International warned that state-sponsored repression - including political killings and torture - was worsening in the country.

"The level of human rights violations and intimidations have continued since the signing of the Abuja agreement in September," Casey Kelso a researcher with Amnesty International in London told IRIN. "We fear that these violations and intimidations will only increase as the election draws closer. We call on the Commonwealth ministers to use this visit to undertake their own investigation into the reports of violations."

In its new report Amnesty International appealed to the European Union and the Commonwealth to send international observers as soon as possible ahead of presidential elections which are expected to take place next year. The organisation said the report was being released to coincide with the Commonwealth visit to Harare and in advance of the 29 October meetings in Brussels of EU foreign affairs ministers and the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states.

"I will be going to Brussels to lobby the EU on the Zimbabwean issue and to emphasise the urgent need for observers and greater attention to the human rights violations," Kelso said. On Tuesday a spokesman for the EU told IRIN that the EU had asked the Zimbabwean government for clarification on whether the government would allow EU observers to next year's presidential elections.

News report on Wednesday quoted the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenga as rejecting the EU's alleged ultimatum. "Zimbabwe does not accept demands, we are a sovereign and independent state," Mudenga said.

The Amnesty report said that "despite the human rights benchmarks being set for Zimbabwe in the Abuja and Cotonou Agreements, the human rights situation remains serious and without expected improvement".

A statement by the South African department of foreign affairs ahead of the meeting of Commonwealth ministers said the purpose of the Harare gathering was to discuss a "way forward in terms of implementing the provisions of the Abuja agreement". According to the statement one of the provisions of the agreement was a commitment by the Zimbabwean government to freedom of expression and to take firm action against violence and intimidation.

A South African diplomatic source told IRIN on Wednesday that the ministers were hoping to get clarification during the two-day meeting about Zimbabwe's implementation of the Abuja agreement signed on 6 September in the Nigerian capital. The agreement, brokered by the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, was an attempt to commit the Zimbabwean government to end the illegal and sometimes violent land seizures by supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Britain pledged to help finance a fair and just land reform programme.

"Up to now it has been pretty clear that the Zimbabwean government has not implemented or even attempted to implement the terms of the agreement which includes not only ending farm violence and farm occupations, but also trying to end the atmosphere of fear and violence and intimidation which exists in general," the diplomatic source said.

The Amnesty report documents a number of human rights violations saying they were "predominately by war veterans and other supporters of the ruling party, and in some cases with the complicity of the police".

Amnesty International added that it was "extremely concerned" for the safety of journalists and called on the Zimbabwean government to ensure their safety, especially in the run-up to the presidential poll.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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