Freedom House Disappointed with Outcome of Emergency SADC Summit
Resolutions approved at the emergency SADC summit held this week in response to the crisis in Zimbabwe do not go far enough, Freedom House said today. In particular, basic civil liberties such as freedom of expression and assembly must be reinstated in Zimbabwe as SADC-facilitated negotiations take place.
On Wednesday, March 28, leaders from 14 African nations gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for an emergency two-day meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to address the mounting political crisis in Zimbabwe. While observers, including Freedom House, had hoped SADC would use the opportunity to make a strong statement against the recent political crackdown in Zimbabwe, the result was instead a continuation of quiet diplomacy. The major outcome was the decision that South African President Thabo Mbeki will facilitate a dialogue between ZANU-PF and the opposition
“Hopes on the part of the international community that SADC would issue a strong statement insisting that President Mugabe restore freedom of expression and assembly in Zimbabwe were, unfortunately, misplaced,” said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. “Dialogue is the best route out of this crisis—but it must be accompanied by a recognition that civil liberties need to be immediately restored. Otherwise, the outcome will be essentially business as usual in Southern Africa—with the result being the ongoing suffering of the Zimbabwean people,” she added.
In reaction to the results of yesterday’s SADC summit, Freedom House emphasizes the need for immediate steps to restore basic rights to Zimbabwe. In particular, repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act must be removed, and freedom of speech and assembly reinstated. Additionally, SADC must set a firm deadline that clearly outlines when negotiations should reach a settlement.
“For negotiations to be effective in addressing the crisis in Zimbabwe, SADC must be clear that they mean business, and must outline the key issues to be addressed,” said Ms. Windsor. “Otherwise, the talks could wind up being little more than a pretense.”
Deterioration of civil liberties in Zimbabwe has continued this week with reports of ongoing abductions and arrests of activists. On the day the SADC summit opened, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was re-arrested, along with several other party members in a police raid at the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. The following day, Promise Mkwananzi, President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union went into hiding after receiving death threats from authorities. Scores of other Zimbabweans, including opposition party members, students and members of civic groups, have been arrested or abducted in recent days.
Zimbabwe is one of the world’s most repressive states, and crackdowns against independent media, civil society and political opponents are common. In the 2007 version of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey, the country earned the lowest possible scores for political rights and civil liberties.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties in Zimbabwe since 1980.
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