AI wants Zim leaders to uphold human rights

HARARE - Amnesty International (AI) has challenged presidential aspirants in the upcoming harmonised elections to commit themselves to addressing impunity for human rights violations.

In a brief released this week, the global rights group said the July 30 elections in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa are emerging as the two main contenders, offer Zimbabwe an opportunity to break with its checkered past, tainted by human rights violations.

It said now that former president Robert Mugabe, who was  viewed as the chief culprit in human rights abuses, anyone who aspires to lead the country must pledge to ensure that such a culture is not perpetuated.

Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, is blamed, both at home and abroad, for several forced disappearances of his critics.

“As the country holds its first elections without former president Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper, it is time for Zimbabwe to break with decades of gross human rights violations,” AI said, adding that under the 94-year-old former guerrilla leader “the election period was typically marred by killings, disappearances and arrests”.

“With Mugabe gone, there is a real opportunity for a fresh start for Zimbabwe and a chance to break with history and ensure that human rights are fully respected in the context of the elections and beyond.”

The rights watchdog also highlighted the need for the country’s leadership to prioritise advancing gender equity, women and children’s rights saying Zimbabwe’s prosperity, both economically and politically, hinged on the need to ensure that human rights and the rule of law are the key guiding principles of society as “anything short of this will only short-change the country of its full potential.”

In its briefing, AI highlighted Operation Murambatsvina, which displaced more than 700 000 people in 2005, among unresolved human rights issues.

Other cases of human rights violations that make part of Zimbabwe’s sad chapters  include the Gukurahundi mass killings in which over 20 000 civilians were allegedly murdered in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the early 1980s by the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade.

More than 200 people were also reportedly killed in the 2008 elections when Mugabe was defeated in the first round by the late former MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who succumbed to colon cancer in February this year.

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