Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's human rights record has been condemned for the first time by African leaders, significantly increasing pressure on Mugabe to restore the rule of law and stop evicting people from their homes.
The unprecedented criticism comes from the African Union's Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, meeting in Banjul, Gambia, which had until now been silent about the growing evidence of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
The commission's report, obtained by the Guardian newspaper, expresses concern over "the continuing violations and the deterioration of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, the lack of respect for the rule of law and the growing culture of impunity."
A Zimbabwean government spokesperson refused to comment on the report when contacted on Tuesday.
The commission said it was "alarmed by the number of internally displaced persons and the violations of fundamental individual and collective rights resulting from the forced evictions being carried out by the government of Zimbabwe."
The commission found that the Mugabe government had violated the African Union's charter, which Zimbabwe has signed, as well as other international laws including the UN declaration of human rights. Mugabe was urged to allow an African Union delegation to go on a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe. The report also called on the Harare government to repeal several repressive laws, to stop the forced evictions immediately and to allow "full and unimpeded access to international aid to help the victims."
Zimbabwe has prevented the UN and other organizations from helping the estimated 700,000 people made homeless or jobless by the evictions, which began last May. At the end of a four-day visit to the country last year, Jan Egeland, the UN's head of humanitarian aid, said that Zimbabwean officials should be prosecuted over the mass housing demolitions.
A Zimbabwean lawyer, Gabriel Shumba, told the Africa commission's court, which rules on human rights cases, that he was severely tortured in 2003 by Zimbabwe government agents who used electric shocks and forced him to drink his own urine. The court will hand down its judgment in May.
The African Union, the successor to the Organization of African Unity, is made up of all the continent's political leaders. It also made statements on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Darfur area of Sudan, and Uganda. The resolution on Zimbabwe was adopted last month, but it has only begun circulating now, after the government was given time to respond.
"This is a highly significant report coming as it does from an affiliate body of the African Union," said Iden Wetherell, an editor with the Zimbabwe Independent group of newspapers.
"It will be difficult for the government to counter this. African institutions are now holding their leaders accountable. Zimbabwe's delinquency can no longer be swept under the carpet of African solidarity. This is peer review as it should be, and it makes grim reading," Wetherell said.
Zimbabwe has begun the year with inflation above 500 percent and a third of the country's 12 million people in need of international food aid.