Soldiers sit on a military vehicle parked on a street in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: AP

Johannesburg - Zimbabwe needed to usher in a new era of living up to international human rights obligations and treating its people with dignity and justice, Amnesty International said on Tuesday following the news that long-time President Robert Mugabe had finally stepped down.

Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said: After more than three decades of violent repression, the way forward for the country is to renounce the abuses of the past and transition into a new era where the rule of law is respected and those who are responsible for injustices are held to account.
 
"During 37 years of President Mugabe’s leadership, tens of thousands of people were tortured, forcibly disappeared or killed. President Mugabe condoned human rights violations, defended criminal actions of his officials and allowed a culture of impunity for grotesque crimes to thrive.
 
"Although Zimbabwe invested heavily in social services in the early years of independence, much of this progress was wiped out by later events such as the Operation Murambatsvina forced evictions campaign of 2005, which destroyed the homes or livelihoods of 700,000 people."

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Shetty added: "The people of Zimbabwe deserve better. The next generation of leaders must commit itself to upholding the constitution, living up to Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations and treating its people with dignity and justice."

Speaker of the Zimbabwe Parliament Jacob Mudenda announced on Tuesday that Mugabe had stepped down, this as the two Houses of Parliament -- Upper and Lower -- were seated at the Harare International Conference Centre in the capital moving a motion to impeach the 93-year-old.

Mudenda said he had received a letter from the President, bringing the impeachment process to halt.

The development brings to end the 37-year rule by Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe attained independence from colonial rule in 1980.