U.N. rights chief condemns repression of opposition in Zimbabwe

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights on Tuesday added her condemnation to growing global outrage at the arrest and reported beating and torture of senior members of Zimbabwe's opposition movement.

According to a statement issued by her office, Louise Arbour said reports of violence by police against opposition party members at a rally Sunday were "shocking" and that the country's courts needed to act to safeguard the rule of law.

"This form of repression and intimidation of a peaceful assembly is unacceptable, and the loss of life makes this even more disturbing," the high commissioner said.

Her comments came as Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party who was reportedly severely beaten before being arrested by police, appeared in a magistrates court in the capital Harare along with about 50 other democracy activists who had been arrested by police as they broke up Sunday's rally.

Arbour said she welcomed a Zimbabwe High Court judge's order that Tsvangirai be immediately granted medical treatment and access to his lawyers and brought before the judge or released.

Instead, they were brought to a magistrate's court which is a lower court and lawyers said police did not allow the medical care and legal advice that the High Court judge had ordered.

Arbour's condemnation was echoed by Amnesty International, which demanded an immediate investigation into the killing of an opposition activist allegedly shot dead by police during Sunday's unrest.

"The government must also guarantee the safety and well-being of all those in police custody," said Kolawole Olaniyan, AI's director for Africa. "All detainees should be given immediate access to their lawyers and medical care."

The human rights committee of the International Bar Association also expressed concern. The executive director of the London-based group, Mark Ellis, called for a public inquiry into the police force's response, and said Zimbabwe's government was guilty of ignoring its obligations to protect the human rights of its citizens, reports AP. 

The attack against the opposition rally was earlier condemned by the European Union, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, and the U.S. State Department.

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