The Malawian government has snubbed a call by the country's Christian Agency for Responsible Democracy and Unity, and other civil society organizations, to speak out against the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe, its southern African neighbour - writes Frank Jomo for ENI.
CARDNU, alongside the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, the Centre for Children's Affairs, and the Civil Liberties Committee, issued a statement on 14 March asking President Bingu wa Mutharika to take advantage of his personal relationship with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, to discuss problems facing Zimbabwe.
In their statement, the four groups said, "Continuing to shy away from the Zimbabwe crisis is a betrayal of the people of Zimbabwe and the whole SADC (Southern African Development Community) region."
The government, however, was quoted as saying it would not speak against Zimbabwe just because neighbouring Zambia had done so. Government spokesperson Patricia Kaliati told The Nation newspaper that human rights organizations had overstepped their boundaries.
"My comment is that the human rights organizations have asked us at a wrong time," Kaliati said. "These organizations should meet the president and discuss the issues. They should also discuss them with their counterparts in Zimbabwe."
In Johannesburg, Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwean academic currently with the South African-based Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, said, "At the very least they [neighbouring countries] can issue a condemnation of the brutality and torture, and urge the Zimbabwean government to take action against the police."
Jacob Mafume, coordinator of Crisis in Zimbabwe, a coalition of more than 300 civil society organizations, said, "The silence from the region and SADC on the situation in our country is loud." SADC is a grouping of countries that was originally formed as a unifying economic group to resist the effects of apartheid South Africa.
In Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, called on Zimbabwe to launch a full enquiry into the violent arrests of opposition members. "This form of repression and intimidation of a peaceful assembly is unacceptable, and the loss of life makes this even more disturbing," Arbour said. "I urge the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure an immediate, impartial and comprehensive investigation into these events."
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]