Carter Center Denied Accreditation to Observe Zimbabwe Polls

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has denied the international observation mission, the Carter Center, accreditation to observe elections at the end of this month, although over 50 foreign observer missions have been invited to monitor the polls. Some of these include known ZANU PF allies who endorsed the flawed run-off election in 2008.

The globally accepted observer mission, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, has observed 94 elections in 37 countries. It is comprised of experts from a range of countries.

But ZEC Chairperson Rita Makarau wrote to the Carter Center on Tuesday informing them their application had been declined, despite having received indications by all major political parties, in a previous trip, that the Centre would be welcome to observe the polls.

ZANU PF is on record saying it will not invite countries that maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe to observe the elections. To this end Britain and the United States are among the countries excluded and in Europe only Russia, Belarus and Serbia have been invited. Most of the countries invited are members of the African Union and SADC, while others come from Asia and Latin America.

John Stremlau, who heads the Center's peace initiatives, told SW Radio Africa that they are an international independent NGO.

"We have had our differences with US administrations – Republican and Democrats – over such things as having direct dealings with Hamas in Palestine or the Maoists in Nepal, who are important stakeholders to any progress towards peace.

He said the ZEC decision is very surprising, given that they had received very positive signals from various ZANU PF individuals, especially when an assessment team had visited Zimbabwe earlier this year.

Stremlau, who led the observation mission in the recent Kenyan election, said they had 52 observers in their mission and many of them were from around the world.

He said: "The presence of international observers is not to interfere but to bear witness, to ensure that the process is faithful to the basic principles that the international observer groups at the UN all agreed to back in 2005, including clear and fair secret ballots and no intimidation. Clearly ZEC had a different view."

Stremlau said he is glad that there will be a large delegation from the African Union and from the Southern African Development Community, but said that the 'proof will be in the pudding', and hopes that even the domestic observers will be given complete freedom to allow them to assess the quality of the election.

A statement issued by the Carter Center also said: "A peaceful and transparent election that reflects the will of the people is the right of all citizens in a genuine democracy. International election observation is widely recognized around the world as an important measure to promote such transparency.

"Perhaps even more importantly, impartial and nonpartisan citizen observation groups have a critical role to play in promoting transparency and electoral credibility, especially in Zimbabwe."

Meanwhile another US based organization, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), says state authorities in Zimbabwe have engaged in a pattern of suppression that specifically targets groups engaged in voter registration, education, and mobilization initiatives, with just weeks to go before the watershed election.

The group recently released a report entitled, "A Promise in Peril: How Widespread Rights Violations Undermine Zimbabwe's Elections."

Jeffrey Smith, an advocacy officer for the RFK Center, said the report hopes to shed light on the situation in Zimbabwe as around elections time there is typically a world event that diverts attention from what is happening in Zimbabwe.

"There is always something that takes the eye off the ball in Zimbabwe. In 2008 it was the post election violence in Kenya and right now it's the massive unrest happening in Egypt. We hope that with our findings people will start paying attention to the happenings on the ground, as these are potentially watershed elections."

Smith said although Zimbabwe is not seeing the same amount of violence in previous elections there continues to be systematic political intimidation, especially in the rural areas, including the banning of shortwave radios, arbitrary detention of activists and widespread violations against freedom of expression and access to information.

He said it is surprising that the ZEC refused to accredit the Carter Center but allowed countries with a very "chequered" human rights and democracy history such as China, Belarus, Ethiopia, Sudan, Venezuela and Cuba.

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