UN rights chief presses Zimbabwe PM on poll violence

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United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called on Zimbabwe to take steps to prevent a repeat of 2008 political violence in elections that are due next year.

She spoke after meeting Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who joined veteran leader President Robert Mugabe in a unity government after the violent presidential run-off in which some 200 of Tsvangirai’s supporters were killed.

Pillay told reporters after the hour-long meeting that she had asked Tsvangirai what progress Zimbabwe had made in establishing a human rights commission, which she said should start functioning ahead of the poll, Reuters reports.
“I was able to raise many areas of concern from a human rights point of view, such as non-recurrence of violence that occurred in last elections and what steps are being taken to protect ordinary people from such violence,” Pillay said.
“The Prime Minister was very firm, forthright and convinced me of his commitment towards protecting human rights. His goal also is to have successful elections.”

Pillay is the first U.N. rights chief to visit the southern African country, and is expected to meet Mugabe later in the week. In 2009, the Zimbabwean government expelled Manfred Nowak, a U.N. rights investigator.

Analysts say Harare has invited Pillay because of a lull in political tension and a drop in rights abuses following the formation of the unity government between rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai in 2009.

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.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party wants elections held this year, ahead of schedule, while Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the next vote should come after the adoption of a new constitution and electoral, security and media reforms.

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