Ban expresses disappointment that Zimbabwe blocks UN torture expert

Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak returns to South Africa after being turned away from Zimbabwe. (Photo - UN News Centre)29 October 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his disappointment that the invitation extended by the Zimbabwean Government to the United Nations independent expert on torture was suddenly revoked yesterday.

Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, was invited by the Government on 1 October to conduct a fact-finding mission from 28 October to 4 November.

Despite a written invitation by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, he was not allowed into the country upon arrival at the airport in the capital, Harare.

Mr. Ban supports the call issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay “on the Government of Zimbabwe to give full access to the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations,” his spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.

“More generally, the Secretary-General regrets the circumstances that led to the decision of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to temporarily disengage from the Cabinet and Council of Ministers in Zimbabwe,” she added.

Earlier this year, the opposition MDC, led by Mr. Tsvangirai, and President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party agreed to form a Government of National Unity, following months of tensions after disputed presidential elections.

Mr. Ban believes the Government has improved the lives of Zimbabweans and hopes that this latest challenge will be surmounted as soon as possible, urging all parties to respect the power-sharing agreement reached last August, Ms. Montas said.

“I deeply regret that the Government has deprived me of the possibility to objectively assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment through gathering on the spot evidence from all available sources, including governmental and non-governmental sources, victims and witnesses, as well as visits to various places of detention,” Mr. Nowak said today.

“Each hour is critical,” he emphasized.

Allegations that MDC supporters and human rights defenders have been arrested, harassed and intimidated in recent days underscore the urgent need for an objective fact-finding mission by an independent UN expert, Mr. Nowak has stressed.

While in transit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, he was informed that Zimbabwe’s Foreign Minister had decided on Monday to postpone his visit, citing consultations between the Government and the South African Development Community (SADC).

But while waiting for his flight on to Zimbabwe, Mr. Nowak received a later dated 27 October that Mr. Tsvangirai wished to meet him in his office in the capital, Harare, today.

Consequently, the Rapporteur flew to Harare last night, but upon arrival, he was met by the head of airport immigration, who said that despite his valid visa, his entry into the country had not been cleared by the Foreign Minister.

After spending the night at the airport, he was sent back on the first flight to Johannesburg this morning, despite efforts by the UN, the Prime Minister and other authorities to facilitate his entry into the country.

“A high-level delegation sent by the Prime Minister to go to the airport was even denied access and told that the Special Rapporteur was no longer held at the airport,” according to a press release issued by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Mr. Nowak said that he strongly protests his treatment, urging the Government to fully investigate the incident and identify who is responsible for denying his access to Zimbabwe.

Source: UN News Centre