By Reagan Mashavave (AFP) – May 21, 2012
HARARE — Zimbabwe's justice minister said Monday that reports of torture and violence against political activists were "lies", during a visit by UN rights chief Navi Pillay.
"There is no state-sponsored violence, these are all lies. We told her that there are no torture chambers in Zimbabwe," Patrick Chinamasa said after an hour-long meeting with the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A South African court on May 8 ordered prosecutors in Pretoria to probe Zimbabwean officials accused of torturing opposition supporters five years ago, citing South Africa's obligations to the International Criminal Court.
The landmark judgment meant that the authorities can investigate and prosecute high-level crimes committed not only in neighbouring Zimbabwe but anywhere else in the world.
Chinamasa said his meeting with Pillay was cordial, but reiterated Zimbabwe's insistance on outlawing "homosexual activities".
"We need to investigate some of these (torture) reports so that we find out if the person was involved in a personal accident, as they can claim that they are torture wounds," Chinamasa said.
"All that has been written (does) not contain details of who was tortured, where were they tortured. We just see reports in the media. We want to know where did it happen, so that police can investigate."
Pillay said she would only comment on her talks at the end of her trip Friday.
A coalition of local rights groups, Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations, accused government of trying to cover up ongoing abuses.
They said government had invited "bogus" organisations affiliated to the state to give false reports to Pillay.
"These are people who are an extension of the state," said Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the pro-democracy National Constitutional Assembly.
"It is not to deal with the agenda of the United Nations, it is to abuse it," he told a news conference. "That's what they want to do, to abuse the visit of the UN High Commissioner. They do not take these things seriously."
Irene Petras, head of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said: "There is still suppression of freedom of expression, there is suppression of freedom of assembly."
"There are human rights abuses which are happening and I think if people are allowed to read let them judge for themselves, let us not try and put things under the carpet," she said.
Pillay, who is on a five-day visit to Zimbabwe, is expected to meet President Robert Mugabe later in the week.
The 88-year-old president has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980 but following deadly violence around failed elections in 2008, he was forced into a power-sharing government with rival Morgan Tsvangirai, who is now prime minister.
Despite the unity government, rights activists are frequently arrested or harassed in the course of their work.
Pillay's visit comes after an invitation from Harare.
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