Mugabe visit to Paris sparks protest over human rights

A HUMAN rights protest marked the start of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s controversial visit to Paris for a Franco-African summit, and one activist filed a complaint to urge the African leader’s arrest on torture charges.

Several dozen demonstrators, one with a banner reading “Mugabe, murderer”, said they were angry at France for inviting the African leader despite the EU banning his travel.

Mugabe, whose regime has been accused of systematic torture and crackdowns on opponents and journalists, flew into France yesterday.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist who has long tried to bring Mugabe to trial, lodged a complaint with a prosecutor. He said he wanted “to demand the French government enforce its law against torture”.

“Torture is a crime under French law, wherever it is committed in the world, by whomever,” he said.

The complaint is likely symbolic, as no sitting head of State has ever been prosecuted in France.

Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, criticised Mugabe’s harsh treatment of homosexuals in Zimbabwe and said he had affidavits from two people who claim they were tortured.

One of the two, 18-year-old Tom Spicer, an activist with Zimbabwe’s political opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, said he had been harassed for three years by Mugabe’s agents and the

police.

“I feel it’s important for us to come here and show that the world in general is displeased with France allowing Mugabe to come here,” Spicer said.

Other protests were planned through the day as leaders and representatives from dozens of African countries were arriving in France. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was also attending.

France’s invitation to Mugabe angered several countries, especially Britain, the former colonial power in Zimbabwe.

The European Union imposed travel restrictions one year ago to punish Mugabe’s government for violating human rights and pursing policies that have spiralled his southern African nation into economic and political chaos.

The EU also banned the sale of arms to Zimbabwe, cut off development aid and froze the country’s assets in Europe.

Last week, EU nations decided to renew the sanctions for another year but allow Mugabe to attend the three-day summit.

France had threatened to block the extension of sanctions against Mugabe if it did not get an exemption for the Zimbabwean leader to travel to Paris.

France maintains an exception in the sanctions allows Zimbabwean leaders to visit for political dialogue to promote democracy, rule by law and human rights.

Mugabe’s travel has become a volatile issue in Europe, causing the EU to cancel its own Africa summit scheduled for April because of disagreement over whether to invite him.

Mugabe, who led his nation to independence in 1980, won a new six-year term in March elections despite widespread accusations of human rights abuses.

The EU imposed sanctions when Zimbabwe refused to let European observers freely monitor the elections. The government has denied allegations of systematic torture by police.

Zimbabwe has been destabilised by political and economic turmoil since March 2000, when ruling party militants began a state-orchestrated campaign to seize thousands of white-owned commercial farms.

Serious food shortages have left nearly seven million people, more than half the population, facing famine.

The Franco-African summit, being held behind closed-doors, was focusing on African development as well as unrest in the former French colony of Ivory Coast.

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