Monday, 26 March 2007
Private Members’ Business
Human Rights in Zimbabwe
I have pleasure in supporting this motion. I think all of us are aware that the political and economic crises in Zimbabwe have been worsening at an alarming rate. As has already been said, it already has the world’s lowest life expectancy, at 37, and the highest inflation rate, at 1,700 per cent—dubious records. AIDS is rampant, malnutrition already affects around 40 per cent of the population, unemployment is at 80 per cent and apparently there are 4,000 more deaths than births each week. The International Crisis Group report is blunt: the policies, corruption and repressive governance of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party are directly responsible for the severe economic slide, growing public discontent and international isolation of the country.
The spiralling inflation that I mentioned followed the decision by the government to print $230 million worth of Zimbabwean currency to pay international debts and sustain operations, with the obvious consequences. I mentioned that unemployment is between 80 per cent and 85 per cent, but poverty is over 90 per cent, and foreign reserves are almost depleted. Over four million persons are in desperate need of food. HIV-AIDS and malnutrition kill thousands every month and, to add insult to injury, the government-sponsored campaign to clear urban slums, as they call them, forcibly deprived more than 18 per cent of the population of homes or livelihoods and badly damaged the informal sector—the street-side stalls—the lifeline for many of the urban poor. Many of you will have read the story of the Gumbo family in today’s edition of the Australian.
There have of course been various parliamentary elections recently, largely flawed, with low voter turnout. They have strengthened Mugabe’s power and weakened the opposition even further. With the potential departure of Mugabe in 2008 looming on the horizon, there have been various commentaries on the already chaotic political climate being further exacerbated by the manoeuvring of members of the opposition and ZANU-PF in order to receive maximum benefits from the impending transition, a further tragedy for the people of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s ongoing crisis dates way back to 1965, when Ian Smith, the leader of Southern Rhodesia, unilaterally declared independence from Britain and imposed a white minority rule. As many of us will know, international sanctions and a guerrilla war followed. By 1979, that had claimed some 36,000 lives and displaced some 1.5 million people. The peace deal that was brokered saw the 1980 election won by Mugabe, with 57 seats out of the 80. Since then we have seen a gradual coercion of opposition and constitutional changes that have given Mugabe executive presidential powers and turned the country into a de facto one-party state with the consequences that we have seen. Recent years, too, have seen the forcible seizures of mostly white-owned land by so-called ZANU veterans. This has led to a crippling of the economy and to chronic shortages of basic commodities and services, especially since 2000.
Following the seriously flawed 2002 presidential election, Mugabe has increasingly resorted to using state machinery, war veterans and youth militias to intimidate, to suppress dissent, to gag the media and to systematically violate human rights. Those elections were denounced by international observers as neither free nor fair, but little was done about it by the international community. Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth, following indefinite suspension—the only major action, it has to be said, by the international community. Repression has cast a shadow on all of the parliamentary elections. Morgan Tsvangirai has faced an on-and-off court trial on charges of plotting to assassinate Mugabe and sedition.
We have seen a recent escalation of violence against opposition figures, which we are commenting upon today. Around 50 activists were arrested at a public meeting in Zimbabwe on 11 March. Many of them were severely beaten during arrest, and some were reported to have been tortured while in police custody. We have all seen the images. Police indeed shot dead one of the activists, Gift Tandare, the youth chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly. Those tortured included Morgan Tsvangirai and NCA chairperson Dr Madhuku. There have been incidents of continuing police harassment of the political opposition and lawyers. Grace Kwinjeh and Sekai Holland were both tortured and prevented from seeking medical assistance in South Africa. They were prevented from boarding the air ambulance, their travel documents were seized and only subsequently have they been allowed to travel to get the necessary treatment. As we have heard, later Nelson Chamisa, the national spokesperson for the MDC, was also beaten by police— (Time expired)