The summit of European and African leaders this weekend risks being hijacked by the presence of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Christian Aid said on Tuesday.
The development agency says the European Union should not have lifted – however temporarily – the travel ban on President Mugabe.
"There are only two ways of reading this decision: either the EU believes the human rights situations has greatly improved in Zimbabwe, which is patently not true, or the EU member states are no longer concerned that Zimbabweans continued to be marginalised and that their fundamental rights and freedoms continue to be violated," said Babatunde Olugboji, head of Christian Aid’s Africa Policy.
European officials say they hope the summit will not be distracted by the presence of the Zimbabwean president. They want to cultivate closer ties with Africa on a range of issues from trade and investment to climate change and illegal migration.
Christian Aid believes the EU has a role to play in encouraging human rights and accountable governance across Africa. It says the EU should support civil society in Zimbabwe and other countries in their struggle to establish the rule of law and guarantees for citizen participation.
"Ideally this summit should produce measures to provide technical support to the judiciary as well as institutions guaranteeing freedom of press and agencies to monitor human rights and anti-corruption efforts. These are concrete steps which would make a real difference," said Mr Olugboji.
Christian Aid warns that action must be taken on both sides; several EU member countries still have not ratified the OECD convention on combating bribery and Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Luxembourg are yet to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which many African countries have ratified.
In addition, in order to engage meaningfully with African leaders on accountability, European leaders must tackle the growing gulf between European institutions and citizens. The EU should lead by example by ensuring EU programmes include transparency and anti-corruption measures.
In 2002 the EU imposed a travel ban on 130 of Zimbabwe’s top government and ruling party officials, a ban on weapon sales and froze banned people’s assets to pressure the government to improve its human rights record and observance of the rule of law and to hold free and fair elections.
Judith Melby, Christian Aid’s African specialist who recently visited country, said: "Rather than lifting the ban the EU should extend the travel ban to the families of senior ZANU-PF officials who are already banned. Parents in Zimbabwe find it particularly galling that children of the ruling clique can study abroad while their own children have little chance of an education."
Efforts to hold the EU-AU summit, which was first held in 2000 in Cairo, failed in the past because southern African leaders have threatened to boycott any summit if Zimbabwe’s leader was excluded.