Human Rights Watch Issues Report on Zimbabwe’s Inability to Implement Reforms

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ZimbabweHuman Rights Watch has issued a report declaring that South African leaders need to press Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government to end the ongoing human rights violations and to implement legal reforms.

This report, titled “False Dawn: The Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Government’s Failure to Deliver Human Rights Improvements,” focuses on the new government’s lack of progress in the many areas of human rights where reform is needed.

More than six months after the formation of a transitional, power-sharing government in Zimbabwe between the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), there has been little progress in instituting any promised human rights reforms and in demonstrating respect for the rule of law.

Human Rights Watch reports that his transitional government has demonstrated a lack of political will to create change. Police, prosecuting authorities, and court officials who are aligned with ZANU-PF continue to conduct politically motivated prosecutions of MDC legislators and activists.  MDC is the former opposition party and is now a partner in the government.

Local sources say that President Zuma, who was inaugurated six months ago, has failed to satisfy the expectations of both the public and the politicians alike because no agreements have been reached from the negotiations between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the two MDC’s led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

“Southern African leaders should stop looking at Zimbabwe through rose-colored glasses…The region’s leaders need to press Zimbabwe openly and publicly for human rights reforms to prevent the country from backsliding into state-sponsored violence and chaos,” said Georgette Gagnon, the Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In order to fulfill the demands of human rights groups, heads of state from members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are holding a summit meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on September 7th, 2009.  At the summit meeting they are exptected to assess Zimbabwe’s compliance with a number of rulings by the SADC Tribunal on illegal actions.  President Zuma of South Africa, SADC’s current chairman, is also expected to update leaders on the progress made by the power-sharing government.

“Without these necessary changes, Zimbabwe’s inclusive government will continue to be built on sand,” says Gagnon.

The HWR report recommends a range of fundamental reforms that the power-sharing government should undertake to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – False Dawn: The Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Government’s Failure to Deliver Human Rights Improvements – 31 August 2009

Reuters – SADC: Press Zimbabwe to Implement Human Rights Reforms – 31 August 2009

The Zimbabwe Times – Mutambara is Correct on Zuma’s Role – 31 August 2009

Civilian Peacekeepers Kidnapped in Darfur

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DARFUR, Sudan – Two civilians working with the joint UN-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission in Darfur went missing after a raid on their residences.  Sources say they were kidnapped at gunpoint.

Noureddine Menzi, a spokesman for the United Nations-African Union (UNAU) peacekeeping forces, said that early Saturday morning a gunmen stormed into the town of Zalingei and seized a man and a woman.  He says this is the first kidnapping of staff members who work for the peacekeeping force.  The nationality of the hostages or there captors is still yet to be verified, although sources close to the case say the man was Nigerian and the woman was a Zimbabwean.

Abdel Wahid al-Nur, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), lives in Zalingei.  SLM is one of Darfur’s main rebel groups responsible for contributing to the violence in the region.  Al-Nur, criticized the kidnapping and also denied that the SLM was involved in any way.  He said it showed the weakness of the peacekeeping mission.

The UN-AU force has contacted the kidnappers, and the outgoing political chief, Rodolphe Adada, has appealed for the release of the captives.   Sources say that Adada had previously angered Western diplomats by calling the situation in Darfur, “a low-intensity conflict.”

Human rights groups describe the situation in Darfur as genocide.  The UN puts the death toll up to 300,000 over the six years of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.  Clashes between rival ethnic groups break out frequently in Sudan, and the UN says at least 1,000 people have been killed in the wake of inter-tribal violence this year alone.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Darfur Peacekeepers Say 2 Civilians Kidnapped – 29 August 2009

AP – Darfur Peacekeepers Say 2 Civilians Kidnapped – 29 August 2009

BBC – Two Peacekeepers Seized in Sudan – 29 August 2009

VOA – Peacekeepers Kidnapped in Sudan – 29 August 2009

Sweet Sixteen Marriages in Malawi Protested

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LILONGWE, Malawi – A bill that was recently passed in the Malawi legislature allows 16 year olds to marry with parental consent.  Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is facing pressure from civil society groups to scrap the bill.

Parliament amended the Constitution.  This new legislation is an improvement on the law it replaced which allowed oarental consent to marriage at the age of 15.  Clause 9 in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed with over two-thirds support, although some Members of Parliament (MPs) from both the support and the opposition voted against it before it went through.

Article I of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children defines the word “child” as “every human being below the age of 18.”  Activists are calling for the minimum age to be raised to 18 while some MPs asked the Minister of Justice to consider changing the marriage age to 18 or even 21.

MP Lifred Nawena said marriage at 16 goes against the government policy of youth education.  MP Chimango Mughogho said marriage requires girls to give birth and they are not mature enough at 16.

Minister of Justice Peter Mutharika, however, sees the increase in age as a positive.  He will not take a position on the matter saying only that Malawians should decide together how to move forward.

“Eighteen would be fine but 21 might be too old.  We could say 18 with parental consent or 21 without, but that is a matter of policy,” he said.  “Let the people and all the stakeholders, including boys and girls, debate the issue and agree on whether the marriage age should be 18, 21, or 25 as some people are proposing.  After the consensus, the matter will go back to parliament.”

People interviewed after the vote all agree that Parliament could have raised the age to 18 and that it would have been the appropriate age, as it is the minimum age when one can vote and make one’s own decisions.

Gender and children’s rights activists have called on the country’s leadership to protect and ensure girls’ rights not to marry so young to protect them from maternal death.  MacBain Mkandawire, Executive Director of NGO Youth Net and Counseling, says mental and physical health will be sacrificed if allowed to marry at 16.

Marriage at 16 is contrary to the government’s policy to educate the youth and reduce maternal deaths.

For more information, please see:

Angola Press – Protests at Proposed Law Backing Sweet 16 Marriages – 29 August 2009

Catholic Information Service for Africa – Malawi: Protests at Proposed Law Backing Sweet 16 Marriages – 28 August 2009

Daily Times – Law Commission Defends Marriage Age – 26 August 2009

Africa News – Malawi: Marriage Age Pegged at 16 – 03 August 2009

U.S.-Colombia Base Deal Continues to Threaten Peace in Latin America

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BARILOCHE, Argentina — A special televised presidential summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) held in Bariloche on Friday to discuss the use of Colombian military bases by the United States ended in tension and acrimony between leaders and resulted in a vague resolution.

Leaders from the left-leaning countries of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia made clear their intense opposition in heated speeches to Colombia’s decision of allowing the United States to use up to seven Colombian bases to counteract drug trafficking and violence by insurgents.

US Bases in Colombia

Two of the most vocal leaders, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, demanded that Colombia give the group copies of the agreement with the United States.

Correa argued that the accord is a risk to the region’s stability. “You are not going to be able to control the Americans,” said Correa, staring down at Uribe. “This constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”

Apparently bowing to requests from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who leads the region’s rising economic and political power, Chávez refrained from his characteristic personal attacks and instead spoke of his deep mistrust of the President of Colombia and read a long document that he said demonstrated the United States is planning a war on South America.

Uribe insisted at the meeting that Colombia would not cede its sovereignty or even a “millimeter” of its territory to the United States. He said that the military bases would be under Colombian control and that the American soldiers will only combat the narcotics trade and domestic terrorism. He told the leaders that a copy of the 20-point accord with the United States was available on the Internet.

Uribe also went on to accuse Venezuela of giving refuge to top guerrilla commanders, and said that arms “from other countries” have been supplied to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

Although Chávez and his allies have been the most vocal opponents to the base access plan, less polarizing countries like Brazil and Chile are also opposed to the presence of foreign soldiers on the continent. But they also said Colombia’s neighbors should respect its sovereignty.

In a sign of the animosity that pervaded the discussions, Uribe had to be physically led by the country host’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to participate in the traditional end-of-summit photograph with his peers.

The United States was not present at the meeting. Although not a member of the regional organization, it elected not to send an observer. “We and the Colombians have been clear about the nature of the bilateral agreement,” Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman, said in an e-mail message. “We will continue to reach out to our hemispheric neighbors to explain the agreement.”

The tensions during the seven-hour long meeting eased after the leaders unanimously agreed to a vague resolution that says no foreign military force should be allowed to threaten the sovereignty of a South American nation. The statement does not mention either Colombia or the United States, a result the Colombian press hails as a success.

“The resolution does not name Colombia or the United States but applies to all Unasur countries,” said Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina.

Partly in reaction to the U.S.-Colombia agreement, Venezuela has recently announced a series of military equipment purchases from Russia. And The New York Times reported just over a week ago that Russia will also help Ecuador develop a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.

Ecuador’s government said the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, or Rosatom, would provide “support and assistance” to Ecuador. Russia wants to increase ties with leftist governments in Latin America, a move that has renewed some cold-war-era antagonism with the United States.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – South American Leaders Assail U.S. Access to Colombian Military Bases – 29 August 2009

The New York Times – Leaders Criticize Colombia Over U.S. Military Pact – 28 August 2009

The Washington Post – U.S.-Colombia Deal Prompts Questions – 27 April 2009

The New York Times – Ecuador: Russian Nuclear Energy Aid – 21 August 2009

Taliban Militants Kill Pakistani Tribe Leaders

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BAKHAKEL, Pakistan – A suicide-bomb attack in Bakakhel, a town within Pakistan’s North West Province Frontier (NWPF), left four Taliban detractors dead and wounded a passing woman.  The attack represents the latest of multiple suicide-bombings which have recently been ravaging the Bannu district of northwest Pakistan.  A suicide-bomb attack on Saturday took the lives of eleven civilians in the Bannu district, and a similar attack in a Peshawar bazaar killed thirteen more non-militant Pakistani nationals on the same day.  While past violence was perpetrated by smaller militant organizations, Taliban fighters claimed responsibility for the death of the tribesmen.     

A police official reported that the assassin crashed a car carrying explosives into the vehicle of Pashtun tribesman Abdul Hakeem.  The bomber and Hakeem were killed instantly, along with three of Hakeem’s fellow tribesmen who served as his protectors.  Hakeem was an avid proponent of anti-Taliban measures, and recently issued a decree against suicide-bomb attacks.   Among his anti-Taliban exploits, Hakeem played an instrumental role in allowing Pakistani forces to cross into the Taliban stronghold in North Waziristan.  The chief of police of the Bannu district stated that this indictment likely incensed Taliban militants to target the tribesmen.   As an influential Islamic cleric and vocal critic of the Taliban, Hakeem signified the will of peoples who have long been suppressed by the Taliban’s militant strikes on the northwestern region of Pakistan.  

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It seems the Taliban has been systematically assassinating prominent local leaders to silence the voice of discontented Pakistani civilians.  On September 24, Taliban fighters shot dead four tribesmen who advocated government-run countermeasures against the Taliban.  These targeted attacks mark a sharp deviation from the indiscriminate bombings which have been occurring in Pakistan’s NWPF.  By removing community leaders with the resolve to voice the grievances of the populous, it appears that Taliban militants aim to undermine civilian objections to their methods of gaining control over the area.  Pakistan’s state military has stated on numerous occasions its resolve to beat back insurgencies and attacks by the Taliban and similar, smaller organizations.  However, without the support of dedicated and sympathetic community organizers, such as tribal elders, the weary civilians of Pakistan’s NWFP lose the vessels for their freedom cries.  
 

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Tribesmen killed in Pakistan attack – 28 September 2009

CNN – Pro-government elders killed in Pakistan attack – 24 September 2009

France 24 – Car-bomb attack kills anti-Taliban tribesmen – 28 September 2009