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More needed to end violations in Zimbabwe after 100 days

Exactly 100 days have passed since the inauguration of the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe. The inauguration brought hope of change, but human rights violations targeted at human rights and political activists persist. Amnesty International is urging the new government to rein in state agents and government officials who continue to order human rights violations and to restore the rule of law. “The relentless silencing of government critics that characterised the previous administration is a blight on the record of the inclusive government” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s expert on Zimbabwe. On 11 May 2009, two independent journalists, Vincent Kahiya and Constantine Chimakure were arrested and charged for publishing an article which was allegedly “wholly or materially false with the intention to generate public hostility towards the police, the military and the prison service”. They were released the following day on bail. Amnesty International believes they were arrested and detained purely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. On 14 May 2009, prominent human rights lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, who had been representing a number of human rights and political activists, was arrested and detained by officers from the Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. He was charged with “defeating or obstructing the course of justice” and released on bail on 15 May. The investigating officer is reported to have told Alec Muchadehama, in the presence of his lawyers, that the complaint against him had emanated from the Office of the Attorney General. Amnesty International has voiced concerns about the apparent lack of political will to create an environment in which human rights and media workers can do their work. The organisation has urged the Southern Africa Development Community and the African Union to use their role as guarantors of the inter-party agreement to end on going human rights violations. The continued harassment and intimidation of perceived government critics has held back the international community from providing much needed assistance to ensure the realisation of the economic and social rights of Zimbabwean people. The education of millions of Zimbabwean children hangs in the balance as the education sector is in a state of near collapse. Teachers returned to work in February, ending a strike that had persisted since September 2008. However, the state of the education system remains plagued by serious problems: school fees are unaffordable for the vast majority; schools lack equipment and teaching materials; the issue of teachers’ salaries remains unresolved. Teachers in rural areas have also reported harassment and intimidation by supporters of ZANU-PF, who were responsible for politically motivated violence in the run up to the June 2008 elections. Though hospitals and clinics reopened in February, serious shortages of equipment and drugs remained. According to the UN, in May, the cholera outbreak had killed over 4,200 people and more than 97,000 people had contracted the disease. However, the fatality rate had fallen to 1.8 per cent, a significant reduction from previous figures, which exceeded 4 per cent. “For the inclusive government to live up to its international obligations to ensure the realisation of the economic and social rights of Zimbabwean people, it urgently needs to create the conditions in which donors can feel confident about providing assistance,” said Simeon Mawanza. Amnesty International also expressed concern about reports of victims of political violence who have taken up matters into their own hand in an attempt to recover their property that was looted by ZANU-PF supporters between the March and June 2008 elections. Police were quick to arrest the people involved, but no action was taken against known perpetrators of the 2008 human rights abuses despite reports being made to the police by the victims. “Partisan policing needs to be brought to an end, said Simeon Mawanza. "The needs of victims of the state sponsored human rights violations have to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Those responsible for human rights violations have to be held accountable and the victims accorded effective remedies."