Mugabe's military grip worries US group

BULAWAYO - President Robert Mugabe’s firm grip on the military is a cause for concern, especially with Zimbabwe heading for what could be do-or die elections, a US human rights centre has said.

A delegation from the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights (RFK) which was in the country last week said implementation of reforms agreed under the power-sharing Global Political Agreement was slow.

Jeffrey Smith, the RFK advocacy officer in charge of Africa, said the situation in Zimbabwe was deteriorating.

He said reforms such as de-politicisation of the military — accused of spearheading violence on behalf of Mugabe in the run up to and after the disputed 2008 elections — had stalled.

“The president continues to command an unchecked monopoly on the military and security forces. In addition, amendments to repressive laws,” said Smith, whose team met civil society leaders, lawyers and government officials in Harare and Bulawayo.

The mission, according to the group, was to identify ways to assist Zimbabwe stakeholders, including civil society, participate in the drive for a peaceful election, whose timing is still a subject of bickering between coalition partners.

Smith said his team noted “increased intimidation, threats and violence against civil society and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information”.

“Though the (power sharing) agreement was signed over four years ago, the necessary reforms that were expected to address a host of pressing institutional and human rights issues have either not been introduced or are not being implemented,” he said.

He bemoaned the clampdown on civil society groups engaged in voter registration and mobilisation campaigns.

“The organisations have been continuously raided, their meetings disrupted, and their leaders arrested on spurious grounds, often on the pretext of ‘fabricating voter registration documents’ and for conducting ‘activities that threaten national security’,” Smith said.

Kerry Kennedy, the RFK president who was also part of the delegation, condemned the assault on rights groups by State agents.

“This unequivocal attack on grassroots organisations that simply mobilise voters is astounding, due to both its brazen nature and the relentlessness with which the authorities have pursued the leaders,” Kennedy said.

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