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Amnesty International chief challenges Zimbabwe Prime Minister to implement human rights reforms

Amnesty International's Secretary General, Irene Khan, expressed concern about the continuing harassment and intimidation of human rights activists, journalists and lawyers in Zimbabwe during a meeting with the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai. The talks -- in London on Monday -- came a week after a six-day Amnesty International mission to Zimbabwe, led by Ms Khan. "While the levels of violence have gone down compared to last year, the human rights situation remains fragile and the socio-economic conditions grim," Ms Khan said. Prime Minister Tsvangirai told Ms Khan that the direction for reform had been set in the country and emphasized his commitment to ensuring the implementation of the human rights provisions included in the political agreement signed by the political parties in September 2008. "I can assure you that we will use our position to achieve a human rights culture in Zimbabwe," Prime Minister Tsvangirai said. However, the Prime Minister also recognized the serious challenges that the new government of Zimbabwe faced in implementing the agreement and expressed his own concern about continuing violations noted by Ms Khan during her trip to Zimbabwe. "We will not countenance a situation where Zimbabweans continue to abuse each other," said Mr Tsvangirai. "We have agreed that there should be no politically motivated arrests, people should be able to express themselves without harassment and abuse. However, while the agreement (to implement human rights provisions) is there, the implementation is a political challenge." Ms Khan raised the issues which had been brought to her attention by victims of human rights violations and civil society organizations during her time in Zimbabwe. She told Mr Tsvangirai about the population's fear of recurrence of political violence and frustration with the slow pace of implementing media and law reforms. She also stressed that education was a major issue for Zimbabweans as many children are currently unable to realise their right to free primary school education as a result of unaffordable fees and levies. Ms Khan said that poor families were being put in a difficult position where they have to make choices between buying food and educating their children. Parents often have to choose between sending a boy or a girl to school. She also told the Zimbabwean Prime Minister that Amnesty International is urging the international community to expand international assistance to include support to the education sector and human rights reforms. Ms Khan expressed concern at the lack of urgency on the part of the new government to tackle impunity through reforming the police and the army. She also told the Prime Minister that the police appear to be working under orders not to investigate human rights violations related to the 2008 elections. In his response, Mr Tsvangirai stated that "the culture of impunity should be a thing of the past". He also reaffirmed his commitment to security sector reform and media reforms. "There is a need for demonstrable progress in terms of human rights protection," he emphasized. Ms Khan added that Amnesty International would be closely monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe for the next 100 days and hoped to see Prime Minister Tsvangirai's words translated into action.