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HRW urges Mugabe to respect rights

04 September 2013, 18:29

Harare - Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to prioritise the protection of rights, following his re-election in a disputed vote.

"President Mugabe should seize this opportunity to set Zimbabwe on a path that respects rights and the democratic process," HRW's director for southern Africa Tiseke Kasambala said in a statement.

"Placing human rights at the top of the agenda would send a clear message that Zimbabwe is committed to honouring its human rights obligations."

The global rights body has long expressed concern at Zimbabwe's poor record for human rights.

It called on Mugabe's new administration "to embrace a new, positive rights-respecting approach to governing".

On 31 July, Mugabe extended his 33-year rule after winning the general election with 61% of the vote. Morgan Tsvangirai, his former prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, won 34%.

The controversial vote was endorsed by the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc and the African Union but rejected by Tsangirai who denounced it as a sham.

In its letter, HRW identified key areas to improve, including accountability for past abuses, media freedom, and freedom for activists as well as the right to organise meetings or protests.

The group said immediate steps must be taken in establishing a rights commission that complies with international standards.

Mugabe's long rule has been characterised by a disregard for human rights, with widespread allegations of state-sponsored violence in the run-up to the 2008 election.

HRW called on the new government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for past abuses.

Early this year, police raided the offices of several rights groups in Harare in what critics said was a ploy to instil fear ahead of a constitutional referendum in March and elections on 31 July.

Tsvangirai's party offices were also raided and staffers arrested.

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