Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Stocktaking on human rights

Stocktaking on human rights

Friday, 18 May 2012 09:11

WHEN United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay lands in 
Hararae on Sunday for her visit to assess the situation she must recall the 
words of her boss Ban Ki-moon to stay focused on a trip which could prove to 
a rigorous test of her diplomatic savvy and engagement skills. Pillay will 
be confronted with half-truths, propaganda, lies and deception coming from 
official and unofficial circles. She would need to be smart and informed to 
separate fact from fiction.

She must remember what Ki-moon said in 2007 while opening the Human Rights 
Council fourth session in Geneva, Switzerland, where she is based. Ki-moon 
spoke about need to shed light in the “darkest corners of the world”.

Referring to the Universal Periodic Review — which involves the assessment 
of the human rights records of all 192 UN members (now 193) once every four 
years — Ki-moon said: “This mechanism has great potential to promote and 
protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world”.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a UN 
agency which works to promote and protect human rights guaranteed under 
international law and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The office was established in 1993 the wake of the World Conference on Human 
Rights held the same year in Vienna, Austria, against the background of 
conflicts and human rights violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Angola and 
Liberia — just a year before the Rwandan genocide. Those involved in human 
rights abuses in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Liberia are currently facing 
trial at International Criminal Court at The Hague against a backdrop of 
complaints of selective application of the law,  even by those who are 
advocates of the same at home!
So it is clear Pillay is part and parcel UN institutions and processes 
designed to promote and protect human rights around the world. No country is 
spared when it comes to the periodic review mechanism. All countries are 
treated as equals and have open opportunities to speak their minds.

In fact, Zimbabwean authorities had a field day last year in October in 
Geneva when Harare was in the dock — bleating about sanctions and attacking 
the United States and other western countries while trying to divert 
attention from their horrendous human rights record back home.

So Pillay must carry with her that culture of being frank and open to 
Harare. She must raise issues without fear or favour. Her itinerary will 
allow her to meet a wide cross-section of Zimbabweans who will tell her 
stories which may sound like they are coming from people living not just in 
different countries, but in different planets as well. So she must negotiate 
her way through all that and more.

Pillay will meet President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, 
ministers of  Foreign Affairs, Justice and other relevant authorities, as 
well as the Chief Justice, Speaker of  Parliament, President of  Senate, 
among others.

She will also meet with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and members of 
civil society in the country. She is also considering a number of field 
visits within and outside Harare, including to the Marange diamond fields. 
During these visits, she will also meet local communities and civil society 
members  to listen to their experiences and views. This is a very good mix, 
although it is surprising why the media is not included in her list.

All the same Pillay must be bold and call a spade a spade. She must give 
credit where it is due, but ask difficult questions given Zimbabwe’s 
appalling human rights record. It is deeply disturbing, for instance, that 
in 2012, Zimbabweans are still being persecuted for their real or perceived 
political beliefs or affiliation. This is the legacy of President Robert 
Mugabe and Zanu PF’s disastrous 32-year rule. Political and civil liberties, 
as well as freedoms of expression and association, in all their various 
manifestations, and assembly, among other rights, are still being trampled 

Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe are still rampant. Pillay will hear this for 
herself even though official briefings will be strangely removed from 
reality. However, she must be gutsy and help shed light on the darkest 
corners of our society.


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