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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10366

Ms LEY (9:14 PM) —I thank the member for Melbourne Ports for introducing this important private member’s motion in the House. The coalition has a strong record of opposing Robert Mugabe’s undemocratic regime. In August 2007 Prime Minister John Howard met with opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Prime Minister Howard told Mr Tsvangirai that the coalition supported the Zimbabwean opposition and hoped for true democratic change of regime in their elections. The coalition government delivered targeted sanctions against Mugabe’s corrupt regime in order to send a strong message that they were against the brutalities of the regime. But, politics aside, it is important to look at the human aspect behind the President Mugabe’s violent regime. Behind the politics are real people experiencing a brutal day-to-day existence that has left their lives shattered and has caused many to flee to neighbouring countries.

Robert Mugabe’s party, the ZANU-PF, trains and sponsors the National Youth Service, also known as the Green Bombers due to the military style uniforms they wear and their reputation for violence. The US Department of State describes the Youth Service as a group of ‘undisciplined child soldiers used by the ruling government to suppress political dissent through overt acts of state terrorism’. The child soldiers are responsible for many acts of politically motivated violence and are often under the influence of government issued narcotics. Former recruits to the youth camps have spoken about a horrific training program that breaks down young teenagers before encouraging them to commit acts of violence.

After the 29 March 2008 elections, Patrick—not his real name—was beaten with iron bars in the northern Mashonaland Central Province. Patrick, a schoolteacher, described how the ZANU-PF Party youths attacked him, wanting to know why his school, which was used as a polling station in the elections, recorded a high number of opposition votes. Patrick has three broken ribs, a bandaged right arm and is barely able to sit up. In hospital he had a drip attached to his stomach. Teachers are often the backbone of the country’s electoral process, acting as polling officers on election day since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. However, in rural areas, several schools have been shut down because of political violence that has been rampant since the March polls. More than 5,000 teachers have been beaten, approximately 600 hospitalised and 231 teachers’ houses burnt down.

Mugabe’s youth militias are increasingly well trained in torture techniques, which they use on civilians. Lyn, an 86-year-old farmer, was supporting her family with food grown in her fields. She was assaulted in July 2008 for not attending ZANU-PF meetings. Her back was injured and her arm broken by ‘war veterans’. She said: ‘I am now disabled. I can’t work in the field … I want my attackers to be brought to justice.’

No-one has been held accountable for the gross human rights violations, including beatings and torture, that occurred in the context of the elections, despite the fact that the attackers are identifiable. The police also refuse to investigate the abduction and beating by ZANU-PF youth of thousands of MDC supporters. This lack of accountability for mistreatment in Zimbabwe remains entrenched despite the signing of the power-sharing agreement on September 15, as mentioned in this motion. Police continue to detain accused persons beyond the 48-hour statutory limit, show contempt for court rulings and frequently deny detainees access to legal representation or relatives. Several former detainees have reported to Human Rights Watch that police officers frequently beat or mistreat those in custody.

The Mugabe government’s disastrous policies have crippled a once thriving economy, leaving Zimbabweans enduring hyperinflation. Over 80 per cent of the population are unemployed and living below the poverty line, and Zimbabweans have the lowest life expectancy of any country in the world. Sadly, in Zimbabwe female life expectancy stands at 34 years, while for males it is 37 years. It is concerning that human rights have not been at the centre of the negotiation processes that have happened recently. The negotiations should be about providing justice and relief to people, not just about politics. The Zimbabwean people are now living on a knife edge and they cannot afford to wait for the political bickering to end.

My state colleague, the member for Albury, Greg Aplin, spent a considerable amount of time in the then Rhodesia and keeps in touch with people in this troubled country. He told me this evening that everything we see on the television and the photos we see are all completely accurate. In fact, the situation is worse. It is an anomaly that this man, Mugabe, has run the country into the ground since 1980. No African leader has managed to hang on for so long. Why has he not been removed? He is surrounded by vested interests and those interests are obviously served by keeping him there. I congratulate the people of Zimbabwe for the courage they are showing in the face of this incredible adversity.