“Each hour is critical,” warns UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture after being
denied entry to Zimbabwe
JOHANNESBURG (29 October 2009) - The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, remains very concerned about serious and credible allegations of torture, ill-treatment and inhuman prison conditions in Zimbabwe, twenty-four hours after being denied access to the country, contrary to its invitation of 1 October.
“I deeply regret that the Government has deprived me of the possibility to objectively assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment through gathering on the spot evidence from all available sources, including governmental and non-governmental sources, victims and witnesses, as well as visits to various places of detention,” said the UN expert. “Each hour is critical.”
Mr. Nowak was invited by the Minister of Justice of Zimbabwe, Mr. Chinamasa, to conduct a fact-finding mission to the country from 28 October to 4 November 2009. While in transit in Johannesburg on 27 October, he was informed that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mumbengegwi, had decided on 26 October to postpone the mission.
Waiting in Johannesburg, the Special Rapporteur was informed by letter dated 27 October, that the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, wished to meet him in his office in Harare on 29 October at 10:00 a.m. He was also informed that he would be picked up at Harare Airport by an official of the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Consequently, the Special Rapporteur flew to Harare in the evening of 28 October 2009, to meet the Prime Minister and to discuss with different members of the Government how best to conduct the mission under the changed circumstances.
Upon arrival at Harare Airport at 9:20 p.m. on 28 October, the Special Rapporteur and his team were not met by a Protocol Officer, but by the Head of Airport Immigration, Mr. Nabika. Although the Special Rapporteur and his assistants had valid visas, Mr. Nowak was told that his entry was not cleared by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and that, in the absence of such clearance, he would have to fly back to Johannesburg the next morning. He spent the night at the airport and was sent back on the first flight to Johannesburg on 29 October at 7:20 a.m. All efforts by the United Nations, the Prime Minister, his Secretary, and both Co-Ministers of Home Affairs to facilitate Mr. Nowak’s entry proved unsuccessful. A high level delegation sent by the Prime Minister to go to the airport was even denied access and told that the Special Rapporteur was no longer held at the airport.
The Special Rapporteur strongly protests against such treatment by the various authorities of the Government of Zimbabwe. He urges the Government to fully investigate this incident and to clarify who bears responsibility for the denial of his access to the country. He will report about these experiences to the Human Rights Council.
Manfred Nowak, appointed Special Rapporteur on 1 December 2004 by the UN Commission on Human Rights, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. He has previously served as member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia, the UN expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances, and as a judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nowak is Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Vienna, and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.