By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s justice minister rejected allegations that the country has state sponsored violence and he vowed not to recognize gay rights after meeting with the U.N. human rights chief on Monday.
But the nation’s main independent civic groups accused President Robert Mugabe’s party of trying to present a “fraudulent” account on human rights issues to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who is in Zimbabwe to assess the situation.
In a joint statement Monday, 36 groups said they will boycott a meeting with her arranged by Mugabe’s justice ministry at the Harare Parliament building scheduled Tuesday. The groups said bogus organizations, some even the perpetrators of injustice, were invited to “ambush” the rights defenders’ talks with Pillay.
Earlier, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said he told Pillay that claims of state sponsored torture were untrue, and the allegations must be investigated.
“There is no state sponsored violence, these are all lies. We told her that there are no torture chambers in Zimbabwe,” he said.
He said that Zimbabwe will arrest same sex partners found committing illegal homosexual acts.
“We made it clear that in our law homosexual activities are criminalized and that any person who commits homosexual activities will be arrested,” he told reporters after meeting with Pillay in Harare
Pillay arrived Sunday in Zimbabwe for a weeklong visit, the first by the world rights chief, to assess human rights violations. Chinamasa says Pillay was invited by the coalition government formed in 2009 after disputed, violent elections that were plagued by abuses blamed mainly on militants of President Robert Mugabe’s party and loyalist police and troops.
Independent human rights groups have compiled dossiers from witness accounts of systematic political violence, assaults, beatings, rape and torture over the past decade. At least 600 people have died, about 200 of them in violence during campaigning for the last national elections in 2008.
The 36 groups said Monday that Chinamasa had insisted there was nothing to hide from the U.N. envoy, but that he and justice ministry officials then tried to suppress the activists’ views.
Mugabe’s party wanted to stage manage her mission using loyalists to present “a glorified and sugar coated account” of rights issues, the statement said.
“They don’t take this seriously. They are here to abuse Pillay’s visit,” said Lovemore Mudhuku, an official of organizations that still hope to meet Pillay independently.
No response was immediately available from Pillay’s visiting delegation.
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party routinely denies violence against its opponents.
Pillay, who served as a judge in her native South Africa, has been at the forefront of the documentation of reported killings in Syria during uprisings against the government. She was also a former judge at the International Criminal Court and head of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
In 2009, chief U.N. torture investigator Manfred Nowak was barred entry into Zimbabwe at the Harare airport after claims he was not officially cleared for the visit.
In 2005, another special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general angered Mugabe by criticizing a slum clearance program that left 700,000 people homeless in urban strongholds of the former opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai, now the prime minister in the power-sharing coalition.
Pillay is scheduled to hold talks with Mugabe, Tsvangirai, defense and service chiefs, judges, lawmakers and rights groups. She will hear reports of alleged human rights abuses at diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe where the military has been accused of shootings and torture of villagers and illegal diamond miners driven from mining areas.