/ 4 March 2009

Zim minister lashes out at UN rights chief

Zimbabwe’s justice minister accused the UN’s top rights official on Wednesday of undermining the African nation’s new unity government by overly criticising it for alleged rights abuses.

Patrick Chinamasa said he was very concerned by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s ”seeming determination to put Zimbabwe on the spotlight of alleged serious and systematic violations of human rights”.

”We are not without blemishes on the issue of human rights,” Chinamasa — a hardline loyalist to President Robert Mugabe — told the UN Human Rights Council.

”It is the selectivity, partiality, bias and … politicisation that is of concern to us,” he added.

Pillay said last month she was concerned over the disappearance of opposition supporters, allegations of torture and extraction of false confessions from political prisoners. She said she hoped the new unity government would restore the rule of law.

Pillay said the government put pressure on the judiciary to keep human rights campaigners and opposition members in prison and said she was concerned over the failure of police to investigate and arrest people who allegedly committed serious rights abuses during election violence in June and July.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who won most votes in Zimbabwe’s March election, pulled out of a June run-off against Mugabe because of state-sponsored violence against opposition supporters. Mugabe claimed victory in the run-off widely denounced as a sham.

The coalition government was formed in February after months of political deadlock kept leaders from addressing the world’s highest inflation rate, a widespread hunger crisis and a cholera epidemic that has sickened more than 80 000 people and killed more than 3 800 since August.

Tsvangirai was sworn in Tuesday in Parliament and was expected to deliver his first speech as prime minister on Wednesday.

Chinamasa said Pillay’s statement was ”an attempt to undermine the new political dispensation, as well as undermining Zimbabwe’s judiciary”.

”We are no worse than any other states,” he told the 47-nation council. Zimbabwe would grant Pillay’s request to visit the country ”in the near future”, he added.

United Kingdom’s Africa Minister Mark Malloch Brown scolded the council for failing to address the situation in Zimbabwe.

”Grave violations continue unchecked in Zimbabwe,” he said. ”The council should be able to offer these countries support and must examine how they have escaped its attention.” — Sapa-AP