With just three weeks to go before a presidential runoff, the African Union and Zimbabwe's neighbors must push longtime Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe to end political violence in his southern African country, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
But an official in Zambia, current chairman of the Southern African Development Community, said there were few options for the regional group leading efforts to find a solution. Zambian Information Minister George Mulongoti predicted that the crisis, and need for mediation, would continue after the June 27 runoff between opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe and two other candidates in the first round of voting March 29, but did not win the 50 percent plus one vote necessary to avoid a runoff.
Tsvangirai's party, foreign diplomats in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean and international human rights groups accuse Mugabe of unleashing violence against the opposition to ensure Mugabe wins the runoff. Zimbabwean government and party spokesmen repeatedly have denied the allegations.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday that a joint declaration to be issued from the U.S.-EU summit on Tuesday in Kranj, Slovenia, will include a call for United Nations election monitors in Zimbabwe.
In its report, New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented 36 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries at the hands of Mugabe party militants backed by the police and army, but that the real figures may be much higher.
"There's no way a credible runoff can take place unless there are drastic improvements in the remaining weeks," Tiseke Kasambala, the Human Rights Watch researcher who prepared the report and who recently visited Zimbabwe, said in a telephone interview Monday from London.
In its report Monday, Human Rights Watch said that besides the deaths and injuries, some resulting from torture, thousands of Zimbabweans had been displaced since March, hospitals told not to treat victims, scores of opposition activists arrested, and homes and businesses of opposition supporters looted.
"It's time for a more decisive approach," Kasambala said, adding that mediation efforts led by Southern African Development Community-appointed South African President Thabo Mbeki had "not borne any fruit."
"We think the AU should be taking over from SADC," she said. "The AU is the broader body _ it's the one that takes over when situations in countries become more serious."
Tsvangirai himself has called on Mbeki to step aside, saying the South African leader's quiet style of diplomacy has been ineffective and questioning whether Mbeki is biased toward Mugabe.
Mukoni Ratshitanga, a spokesman for Mbeki, said Monday that South Africans were closely engaged, "together with the rest of SADC and the rest of the continent."
Mulongoti, the Zambian official, said: "The difficult thing is that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state." He said all fellow Africans could do was "advise" Mugabe.
Mulongoti said whatever the results of the runoff, it was unlikely they would be endorsed by both sides. Mediation then would be aimed at finding "some transitional arrangements," possibly a unity government, he said.
"There's no question of winner take all," he said. "We'd want to see a government that functions, a government that encompasses all interest groups."
Mugabe, in power since the coutry gained independence from Britain in 1980, once was hailed as an independence hero who helped his nation develop.
But Kasambala, the Human Rights Watch researcher, said Mugabe no longer deserves to be treated with the respect he once commanded, and added his policies were undermining regional stability. She cited a spate of attacks on Zimbabweans and other foreigners in South Africa by poor South Africans who see the newcomers as competitors for scarce resources.
Yet "the international community seems unable to pressure Mr. Mugabe," Kasambala said. "It is not clear to me why. That baffles me."