GENEVA - The U.N. human rights office is condemning a crackdown Friday in Zimbabwe by riot police on peaceful protesters in the capital, Harare. The agency is calling for an investigation into excessive use of force by security forces.
U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville says there are better ways to deal with the population's legitimate grievances on the economic situation in the country than by cracking down on peaceful protestors.
"We are deeply concerned by the socio-economic crisis that continues to unfold in Zimbabwe. While acknowledging efforts made by the government, the international community and the U.N. in Zimbabwe to mitigate the effects of the crisis and reform process, the dire economic situation is now impacting negatively on the realization of economic and social rights of millions of Zimbabweans," Colville said.
Zimbabwe's citizens are struggling with hyperinflation, which has sent prices soaring for essential commodities such as fuel, food, transportation and health care. Compounding the problems is the ongoing impact of cyclone Idai that hit Zimbabwe in March and a severe drought.
The United Nations says one third of Zimbabwe's population of 16 million people is in need of humanitarian aid.
The fallout in terms of casualties and possible arrests from Friday's protests is not yet clear. But Colville tells VOA his office has received disturbing reports of human rights violations over the past few months.
"There are, as I said, reports coming through right now of very recent abductions, beatings and so on of activists or human rights defenders. We have not had a chance to verify those and look in detail apart from the two that occurred a few days ago," Colville said. "So, it is clearly a very tense situation."
Colville says state authorities have a duty to ensure people's rights to freedom of expression and to protect the right to peaceful assembly.
The U.N. human rights office is urging the government to engage in a national dialogue to ensure that civil society in all its guises can carry out its activities without fear of intimidation or reprisals for its work.