The Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) has issued a statement today, strongly supporting the Lenten pastoral letter of April 2003 of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference (ZCBC) that condemnis the 'frightening' corruption, lawlessness and abuses of power committed by the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe. The ZCBC accused president Robert Mugabe of failing 'to provide leadership that enables the creation of an environment that enhances truth, justice, love and freedom'. It pointed to government responsibility for the poverty of Zimbabwe's citizens, blaming 'corrupt practices, poor planning and bureaucracy' for food shortages that threaten seven million people. The letter also condemned the politicisation of government food aid 'while people are starving': people queuing for food are only served if they can prove they are members of the ruling party. The statement warned that most Zimbabweans were 'drowning in abject poverty', 'suffering social and political violence', and harassed by officials who 'have placed themselves above the law'. CIIR also supports the demands of the ZCBC and other partners in Zimbabwe for 'meaningful dialogue' with the political opposition party and all significant sectors of Zimbabwean society. In an unprecedented move, more than 200 lay Roman Catholics in Harare have passed a no-confidence vote on Mugabe. Their statement urged 'the present government [to] step down and hand over to those who are prepared to serve the country and all its people". These statements contrast with the recent actions of the South African government that successfully lobbied the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva not to look into human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. CIIR advocacy coordinator for Africa and Yemen Dr Steve Kibble said the decision 'was a setback for the cause of human rights, which casts doubt on the usefulness of the work of the commission itself'. CIIR supports those who suggest that ratification of key human rights treaties must be a pre-requisite for membership of the Commission. Candidate governments should also ensure compliance with reporting obligations; give open invitations to UN human rights experts to visit their countries; and not have been recently condemned by the Commission for human rights violations.
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