Harare - UN monitors on Wednesday urged Zimbabwe to live up to international human rights standards, voicing concerns over violations ahead of next month's constitutional referendum and elections expected in July.
The trio of monitors, who oversee countries' respect for freedom of assembly and expression and the treatment of human rights campaigners, said in a statement that they wanted to raise the alarm amid increasing reports of intimidation and harassment, physical violence and arrests.
Zimbabwe votes next month on a new constitution drafted by the uneasy unity government of veteran President Robert Mugabe and his arch-rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The bitter rivals were forced to form a government to avoid Zimbabwe tipping into all-out conflict following a bloody presidential run-off election in 2008.
Past elections have been marred by killings, assault and intimidation, with Tsvangirai's supporters being most of the victims of the 2008 violence, and members of his Movement for Democratic Change have again faced attacks in recent weeks.
“In the context of proposed constitutional reforms and the elections, it is disturbing and shocking to learn that civil society organisations that have been operating for years, including election monitoring groups which aim to promote free and fair elections, have been searched by police,” Maina Kiai, the UN's monitor on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, said in the trio's statement.
Margaret Sekaggya, the world body's monitor on the treatment of human rights campaigners, also sounded the alarm.
“Attempts to stifle criticism must end,” she said.
Zimbabwean authorities claim Western nations with a political agenda are behind the campaign groups that have faced a crackdown.
The UN monitors also voiced their concern at police use of force against, and arrests of, peaceful protesters taking part, and handing out roses and teddy bears, at a Valentine’s Day protest outside Zimbabwe's parliament on February 14.
Freedom of expression monitor Frank La Rue said Zimbabwe must ensure that “everyone is guaranteed the right to speak freely without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation”. - Sapa-AFP