UN rights chief to make first visit to Zimbabwe

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United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay will visit Zimbabwe next week as President Robert Mugabe seeks to dispel charges that Harare is a major rights violator.

Pillay will be the first U.N. rights chief to visit the country and was invited by Mugabe’s government, which in 2009 expelled Manfred Nowak, a former U.N. rights investigator.

The West has imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his allies, accusing them of election violence and using state security agents to beat up and detain opponents, Reuters reports.

Analysts say Harare has invited Pillay because of a lull in political tension and a drop in rights abuses following the formation of a unity government with Mugabe’s rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in 2009.

The U.N. said on Thursday Pillay, a former South African High Court judge, would be in Zimbabwe for five days from May 20 and would meet Mugabe, Tsvangirai and local human rights groups.

Mugabe, 88, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980, has been the subject of newspaper reports about his health in recent months, with some reporting that he has prostate cancer. In interviews with state media in February Mugabe laughed off suggestions that he was seriously ill.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party says 200 of its members were killed by Mugabe’s supporters in 2008 during a violent presidential election run-off.

Under the terms of the power-sharing deal new elections must be held by next year.

Zimbabwe’s army is also accused of killing dozens of people in the Marange diamond fields when it was sent in to evict up to 30,000 illegal miners.

The government has denied the charges and challenged critics to produce evidence.