'Grim' assessment

"There seems to be no real sense of urgency to bring about human rights changes on the part of some government leaders ... words have not been followed by effective action"

Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general

Failure to reform security services was an obstacle for the unity government formed in February between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, his former rival and the current Zimbabwean prime minister.

"As head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and leader of the country for the last three decades, President Mugabe and those around him must have a special responsibility to rise to the challenge of delivering on the global political agreement and particularly on the hard core human rights issues."

She urged the unity government to commit to human rights reforms and make public statements urging their supporters against violence.

She said the power-sharing pact "provides a framework for change, but commitment to its implementation is not consistent  throughout the government".

"The government must give as much attention to securing human rights reforms as they are to seeking economic resources," she added.

Amnesty deplored "persistent and serious" human rights violations in Zimbabwe [AFP]

"The human rights assessment is grim but should not be used by donors to withhold funding that can make a difference to humanitarian needs," Khan said.

"We believe humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe should be expanded," she said, especially to support primary education.

Her visit was the first-ever by an Amnesty chief, and Zimbabwe's decision to allow her mission was seen as a sign of political openness.

Intimidation

Khan said a climate of intimidation pervades with human rights activists and supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party were still being prosecuted on terror charges.

Seven MDC activists who disappeared last year have never been found, while as recently as Wednesday, protesters were beaten while carrying out peaceful demonstrations.

Violence continues on white-owned farms, while investigations have yet to be opened into deadly political attacks that erupted last year.

"There seems to be no real sense of urgency to bring about human rights changes on the part of some government leaders. Words have not been followed by effective action," she said.

Khan is expected to meet Tsvangirai in London on Friday. She failed to meet Mugabe, who was a 1970s Amnesty "prisoner of conscience" during his anti-colonial campaign.