HARARE - Rights groups have urged southern African countries to address abuses and uphold their people's freedom ahead of a meeting of regional heads of state in Zimbabwe next week.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights deplored "serious human rights concerns" in Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, in a joint statement Thursday.
Leaders from the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) will hold their annual meeting in the resort town of Victoria Falls on Sunday and Monday, with Zimbabwe as chair.
"SADC has been criticised for its laxity on making human rights compliance within its member states a priority," the rights groups said.
They accused Zimbabwe of dragging its feet to prosecute perpetrators of political violence in past elections, and denounced secrecy around mining rights and the country's lucrative diamond fields.
Angola and Swaziland regularly crack down on protests and government criticism and stifle media reporting on abuses, according to the statement.
Human rights "has steadily declined" in Zambia since President Michael Sata came to power in 2011, and the state has abused laws to persecute opposition members as well as homosexuals, the groups said.
Malawi should incorporate international human rights in its national legislation and protect sexual minorities, they added.
"SADC should strive to create conditions for all to enjoy their economic, social, civic and political rights," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International Southern Africa director.