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« on: October 26, 2011, 11:13:13 AM »

October 26, 2011
Herald Reporter

Secretary for Media, Information and Publicity Mr George Charamba

THE Zimbabwean Government has lodged a protest with the United Nations and the Swiss government after the latter  denied visas to six members of President Mugabe's delegation to the International Telecommunications Union summit on information communication technologies underway in Geneva.

President Mugabe was leading the delegation, but cancelled the trip after the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure Development Minister Nicholas Goche, Director General in the President's Department Retired Major General Happyton Bonyongwe, Secretary for Media, Information and Publicity Mr George Charamba, and his aide de camp Senior Assistant Commissioner Martin Kwainona were denied visas.

Information Communication Technology Minister Nelson Chamisa, who was part of the delegation, was granted a visa.

A senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed yesterday that Zimbabwe had lodged a protest with the UN and the Swiss authorities.

"We noted that this was a highly regrettable decision which was a clear violation of the United Nations headquarters host agreement and Zimbabwe's sovereign right to determine the composition of its delegation," the official said.

According to the official, Zimbabwe lodged its protest through the Swiss embassies in Harare and Geneva, the UN in New York as well as to the UN secretary-general, his representative at the ITU and the secretary-general of the ITU, which is headquartered in Geneva.

The ITU is a UN specialised agency for telecommunications.

"Our ambassadors (to the UN in Geneva and the UN in New York) were told that the Swiss had made their decision and not violated the host agreement. They (Swiss authorities) argued that they had given visas to the Zimbabwean delegation and those given were adequate to represent Zimbabwe at the summit," said the official.

Section 11 of the host agreement says authorities of the host nation shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters (of a UN body) on persons invited by the UN or by such specialised agency on official business.

In this case, the President was invited by the ITU secretary-general and had the right to determine the composition of his delegation. The Foreign Affairs official said the Swiss embassy in Harare wrote to the Government that they made the decision based on current Swiss law and obligations as a host country (to a UN body).

The Swiss embassy also said it had done its part by issuing "exceptionally a visa to President Mugabe" and taking into consideration that those denied visas were on the European Union sanctions list.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but asserts to be an associate member which is neutral in world politics.

However, President Mugabe, who was given a visa and the six who were denied the visas, are all on the EU sanctions list, which bars them from travelling to EU member countries.

But the travel restrictions do not apply to UN meetings because the world body has not imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and host countries of UN bodies are therefore required to grant visas for such meetings.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Charamba said: "These are changed times and nowadays you become neutral from one side, in this case the western side. Switzerland has called itself neutral in terms of international politics, anyway the Zimbabwe Government knows what recourse it takes in terms of international law."

Mr Charamba said it was surprising that a country which calls itself neutral had taken a decision to divide a government of national unity, a family (the First Family) and a delegation by issuing visas to some members and denying others.

Minister Chamisa yesterday said he was no longer attending the summit.

"I am no longer going. I was supposed to go with the President but we are no longer going," he said.

Minister Goche said this was the second time after 2009 that he had been denied a visa to attend a world ICT summit.

He said the Swiss authorities' arguments were flimsy given that in April this year he was granted a visa to attend a World Meteorological meeting in Geneva and for five years when he was Labour Minister he attended International Labour Organisation meetings in Geneva.

Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa was also recently in Geneva attending a UN Human Rights Council meeting.

Mr Charamba said despite the Zimbabwe delegation not attending the summit, the country will forge ahead with promotion of ICTs.

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