Zimbabwe: UN rights chief speaks out against murders of opposition activists

Zimbabweans crossing the Limpopo River into South Africa (file photo)

28 May 2008 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today strongly condemned the killings of opposition activists in Zimbabwe as well as the ongoing harassment of non-governmental organization (NGO) workers and human rights defenders, among other civil society members.

Louise Arbour expressed shock at reports that several bodies of slain activists from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – including Shepherd Jani, a provincial treasurer for the party – have been found in the Southern African nation.

“It is hard to get a very precise picture of the full range of the violence or the exact number of politically motivated extra-judicial killings,” she said. “At one level, there appears to be an increasing pattern of people being targeted for politically motivated assassination. At another, arrests, harassment, intimidation and violence – directed not just at people with political affiliations, but also at members of civil society – are continuing on a daily basis.”

The High Commissioner called on Zimbabwe’s authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible, as well as to take urgent measures to protect the country’s inhabitants from more attacks, to create an atmosphere favourable to free and fair 27 June presidential elections.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring South Africa, many of those attacked in the recent xenophobic violence are from Zimbabwe, according to the UN.

“For some of the Zimbabweans being chased from their homes and jobs in South Africa, this isn’t simply a serious economic issue,” Ms. Arbour said. “They now face a potentially life-threatening situation in both countries. I welcome the steps the South African Government has taken recently to clamp down on the xenophobic violence, and hope that such scenes are never seen again in South Africa.”

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