Zimbabwe: No place for the United Nations

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Following the break in civility and a looming crisis on the Zimbabwean political scene, the United Nations sent a torture expert to the country, but the supposed week-long fact-finding mission was cancelled at the last minute as the expert was turned away by Zimbabwe’s foreign ministry.

Mr. Manfred Nowak of the United Nations, who was invited by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was reportedly stopped by immigration officials after landing at Harare airport. Mr. Nowak was invited in the wake of renewed political crisis between power-sharing rivals Mr. Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe.

The UN says Mr. Nowak – the special rapporteur on torture – was informed of the cancellation only when he was in transit in South Africa on his way to Zimbabwe. He had been initially invited by the Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa – a Zanu-PF member – to meet officials and rights activists, inspect prisons and police stations and compile a report for the Security Council.

Harare had called off the visit because of an unanticipated meeting with the southern African regional group, SADC, due today in Harare, to try to resolve the political crisis. The Government message stated that it “regrets to advise that due to the previously unanticipated Consultative process currently taking place in Harare involving the Government of National Unity and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Government of Zimbabwe will be unable to receive the Special Rapporteur on the proposed dates.”

“Recent allegations that MDC supporters and human rights defenders have been arrested, harassed and intimidated during the past few days, highlight the urgency of objective fact-finding by an independent UN expert,” a UN statement on the issue read. The UN statement added that Mr. Nowak welcomed “all efforts to resolve the political crisis”, but that the SADC meeting was not a valid reason to cancel his visit.

Mr. Nowak earlier said he had received two completely different messages from the Zimbabwean government – but added that he would try to meet Mr. Tsvangirai today, Oct. 29.

Return of violence

Analysts in Zimbabwe have said the governments decision to prevent the envoy from entering Zimbabwe is bound to be seen by some as a battle of wills between the two major parties. Human rights group, Amnesty International has warned the country is on the brink of sliding back into last year’s post-election violence.

On Tuesday, October 27, Sheila Mashaire, a senior MDC, said she was stopped on her way to party headquarters early on Tuesday and beaten by armed men who threatened to arrest her. Another MDC top official was also stopped and beaten up by militants from Zanu-PF.

Analysts say there are factions within the rival parties in Zimbabwe who still find it extremely difficult to work together since the government was formed in February following last year’s violent and disputed elections. But Zimbabwe senior official, Mr. Arthur Mutambara, who leads a separate faction of the MDC party, said the leaders must continue to talk.

The acts of violence against MDC supporters have started taking place in both urban and rural areas. Last week, Zimbabwe police raided Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s residency claiming they were searching for stolen dangerous weapons from the police or the army. The MDC later announced that it feared that the police could have planted arms of war in the garden after they took the caretaker, Moffat Sigauke, into the house while many officers remained outside.

“There are hardliners in Zanu who are taking the opportunity to offend all of us in government – offend our colleagues led by Morgan Tsvangirai. What they want is the collapse of the government. What we need to do is to make sure we don’t fall into that trap. We have to be clever, we have to be strategic, and we have to out-think them,” Mutambara was quoted by reporters.

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