SA's Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has arrived in Zimbabwe on her first mission to the troubled Southern African nation.
Officials said Pillay’s week-long trip is at the invitation of the three-year coalition government formed in 2009 after disputed, violent elections plagued by rights abuses blamed mainly on militants of President Robert Mugabe’s party and loyalist police and troops.
“I am here to assess the human rights situation,” Pillay told reporters at the Harare airport on Sunday.
She will meet with Mugabe, political leaders and rights groups, said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.
In 2009, chief UN torture investigator Manfred Nowak was barred entry at the Harare airport after claims that he was not officially cleared for the visit.
In 2005, another special envoy of the UN secretary general angered Mugabe by criticising a slum clearance program that left 700 000 people homeless in urban strongholds of the former opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai, now the prime minister in the power-sharing coalition.
Chinamasa, quoted in the state Sunday Mail newspaper controlled by Mugabe loyalists, said Pillay was first invited to Zimbabwe last year but couldn’t make that trip.
“We showed our commitment by extending another invitation in February and we are happy she has accepted,” he said.
He said he was not concerned by submissions Pillay is expected to receive from rights activists and non-governmental organisations.
“We are happy we will be able to host her because we have nothing to hide in terms of human rights issues. We are not worried about what our detractors will say,” he said.
Pillay is scheduled to hold talks with Mugabe, Tsvangirai, defence and service chiefs, judges, lawmakers and leaders of rights groups. She will hear reports of alleged human rights abuses at diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe where the military has been accused of shootings and torture of villagers driven from mining areas.
In a decade of political and economic turmoil, Mugabe’s party has been accused of trampling on human and democratic rights, vote-rigging and targeting opponents and independent journalists in assaults and intimidation.
Independent rights groups say at least 200 people, mostly opposition supporters, died in violence surrounding the last national polls in 2008 that Tsvangirai’s party said it won. Tsvangirai boycotted a presidential run-off vote against Mugabe, citing spiralling violence against tens of thousands of voters.
Pillay, who served as a judge in South Africa, has been at the forefront of the documentation of reported killings in Syria during uprisings against the government. She was also a former judge at the International Criminal Court and head of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Pillay ends her Zimbabwe visit on Friday. – Sapa-AP