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Freedom Defenders Under Attack In Zimbabwe

By Charles W. Corey
USINFO Staff Writer

Freedom Defenders Under Attack in Zimbabwe, United States Warns

As International Human Rights Day approaches on December 10, the world must be concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe -- where defenders of freedom are under attack and where the human rights situation is becoming worse every day, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs warns.

In Zimbabwe, under the government of President Robert Mugabe, "the attacks, arrests and abductions continue unabated with more than 500 instances of human rights abuses reported each month, Jendayi Frazer told USINFO November 30. "In fact," she added, "the number of victims requiring medial treatment this year alone was 3,463 -- nearly triple that of 2006. So ... the defenders of freedom in Zimbabwe are under attack."

Frazer noted that there have been more than 6,000 instances of human rights abuses reported by Zimbabwean nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) since January. "The world must focus on the crisis in Zimbabwe," she said.

Asked what should be done, Frazer said that "it is extremely important for the international community to put pressure on this [Mugabe] regime to accept freedom of expression rather than beating people down -- to prepare for free and fair elections.

"I think that the neighboring countries -- the Southern African Development Community countries -- certainly support the efforts of President [Thabo] Mbeki to negotiate an agreement between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and the [Mugabe] government, but we think that most important to signing an agreement is actually implementing an agreement."

However, Frazer said, "We have not seen that will being carried out by this [Mugabe] government, so we are a little bit concerned that even if an agreement is signed, it won't be implemented."

Looking ahead to the December 8-9 European Union-African Union Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Frazer said, "We are certainly concerned that the issue of Zimbabwe became a sticking point [in planning the conference]. We feel that Zimbabwe should not be invited to the EU conference but the fact that Zimbabwe will be discussed at the conference is extremely important in our effort to try to change the human rights abuses which are taking place there."

Frazer added, "It is interesting that African countries would seem to come to the defense of a government that is so counter to all of the principles that they put forward -- the New Partnership for Africa's Development, good governance, peer review -- clearly they are not reviewing this peer of theirs by pushing for his attendance at the summit."

Frazer spoke to USINFO prior to a scheduled appearance December 3 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on a program examining the ongoing human rights crisis in Zimbabwe.

Frazer called that CSIS program an "important forum for exchange to again look at how we can collectively work to see Zimbabwe return to democracy, return to its former strong economy [and] end the human rights abuses -- the ongoing crisis that is taking place there. .... I definitely think this is an opportunity to bring world attention to try to end President Mugabe's reign of terror on his population," she said.

"There are many in Africa who look at President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF legacy as advocates of liberation against the Rhodesian government and that certainly is a legacy that ... should be held up for commendation, but President Mugabe at the time opened schools for children," Frazer said.

"Now that they are adults and free thinking people, he is beating them down. So he really has gone back on that legacy. He has actually failed the people of Zimbabwe and he has failed the aspirations of liberation of the region as a whole -- so I do believe that again, hopefully the SADC mediation will help to end this crisis" and that the international community will continue to focus on improving the situation there.

"Freedom loving ... Zimbabweans that are trying to return their country to democracy deserve our support and our assistance and we certainly will provide it," she said.


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