JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe’s government has blocked a visit by the United Nations’ torture investigator who was to examine alleged attacks on opposition activists by ruling party supporters, the world body said Wednesday.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Manfred Nowak was initially invited to Zimbabwe for a week-long trip beginning Wednesday.
However, Zimbabwe’s government canceled the visit while Nowak was in Johannesburg en route to Zimbabwe, citing talks over the country’s fragile power-sharing agreement, the U.N. said.
Longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai joined into a unity government with longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in February, but withdrew temporarily from the coalition earlier this month accusing Mugabe’s party of human rights violations.
Foreign ministers from three of the southern African nations that pushed for the coalition — Mozambique, Zambia and Angola — were due in Harare Thursday for talks with Tsvangirai and Mugabe to try to revive the agreement.
The U.N. said Wednesday that Nowak welcomes “all efforts to resolve the political crisis” in Zimbabwe, but he did not consider this a valid reason to cancel his planned visit.
Opposition supporters and human rights defenders have accused Mugabe’s aides of violence, harassment and carrying out arbitrary arrests.
On Tuesday, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said one of its security officials was beaten by the president’s militants, and said the attack was part of new violence unleashed because it has stepped back from the governing coalition.
“Recent allegations that MDC supporters and human rights defenders have been arrested, harassed and intimidated during the past few days, highlight the urgency of objective fact-finding by an independent U.N. expert,” the U.N. said.
Ephraim Masawi, a spokesman for Mugabe’s party, denied the allegations, saying they were “cheap propaganda” intended to mask the failure of Tsvangirai’s party to explain his decision to withdraw temporarily from the coalition.