Obama asked to tighten screws on Mugabe

HARARE - American President Barack Obama should tighten the screws on President Robert Mugabe’s administration in order to force the regime to implement reforms ahead of polls, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Appearing before the US Congress on Tuesday, Dewa Mavhinga, HRW’s Africa senior researcher, said despite the implementation of a modicum of reforms in Zimbabwe, the political landscape remains hazardous and should be fine-tuned before the holding of this year’s watershed polls.

“During my visit to Zimbabwe last month, people told me of their great fear that the coming elections might just be another cycle of political violence because little had changed on the ground to build their confidence that they can vote freely,” Mavhinga told the committee.

HRW’s stance resonates with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) which on June 15, called upon Mugabe and his coalition partners, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube to work on implementing  security sector and media reforms before holding make-or-break elections.

With disagreements escalating in the four-year-old coalition over poll dates, Mavhinga called on the US to exert pressure on Mugabe through Sadc to create an environment conducive for holding credible elections.

“We call on the Obama administration to work closely with Sadc and urgently take steps to: ensure the political neutrality of the security forces, namely by investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses by security force personnel and publicly directing the leadership of the security forces to carry out their responsibilities in a professional and impartial manner, and appropriately punishing or prosecuting those who fail to do so,” said Mavhinga

Although the passing of a new Constitution through a referendum on March 16 generated praises from across the globe, HRW says the West should not use the peaceful passage.

Tighten screws on Mugabe, Obama toldof the new supreme law as the sole benchmark.

“Simply basing the US policy on the March 16 constitutional referendum is insufficient as all three main political parties campaigned for the adoption of the new constitution and it is only one successful stop along a long road of change,” Mavhinga said.

“Instead, positive engagements with Mugabe and his Zanu PF party should be conditioned on tangible progress in improving respect for human rights and the recent calls for peace are not enough; there is need for matching action to demonstrate a commitment to non-violence and to peaceful elections.”

Rugare Gumbo, Zanu PF spokesperson, could not immediately comment yesterday as he was in a meeting but  the former liberation movement has maintained that it does not give a damn about what the US thinks.

Recently, top US envoys, including seasoned civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, flew into Zimbabwe, a sign of thawing of relations after years of trading accusations and counter accusations.

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