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An Analysis of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Legal Cases | Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

An Analysis of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Legal Cases

1998 – 2006

Background

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (Human Rights Forum) was established after the Food Riots in 1998 following the many reports of human rights violations. As the human rights situation continued to deteriorate, the Human Rights Forum was not disbanded but continued to monitor the human rights situation.

From the year 2000 violence escalated in Zimbabwe. The Human Rights Forum continued to give support to the victims and write reports for both the government and the wider international community to consider.

The Human Rights Forum still exists today as there has been no significant change in the commission of human rights violations by State officials or State sanctioned institutions or individuals.

Objectives of the Report

This report aims to highlight the fact that violence and torture are routinely used in Zimbabwe by State agents as a way of quelling dissent, as well as of extracting information from the public, be it for political or criminal reasons.

The government has asserted that human rights organizations were fabricating stories about the human rights situation in the country. This report refutes the government’s assertions, as there are human rights abuse cases that have gone through Zimbabwean courts and have received judgments stating that human rights abuses do exist and have to be addressed.

Another of the aims of the report is to support the pressure on the Zimbabwe government to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, as requested by Parliament, and the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court. Zimbabwe has signed both these instruments, but has yet to ratify them, let alone ensure their application in domestic law.

NB: It is important to note that the information in this report is not exhaustive and only reflects the cases referred to the Human Rights Forum; there are undoubtedly more that may not have been reported.

Monthly Political Violence Reports

The Human Rights Forum has published 60 monthly Political Violence Reports since July 2001 in which there are monthly statistics for the organized violence and torture that has taken place. The monthly Political Violence Reports indicate that a total of 15,523 violations have been reported. There is variation in the overall number of violations per year, however 2005 appears to have been the worst of the five years covered. This can be explained by Operation Murambatsvina and the legislation introduced to interfere further with individual freedoms.

Trends in Violations

Overall unlawful arrest and detention, torture, political discrimination, and interference with freedoms are the most common violations reported. In 2002, torture was the largest single category of violation in any year until 2005, when it was surpassed by unlawful arrests and detentions.

Torture shows a continuous decline from the peak in 2002, while both unlawful arrest and detention and interference with freedoms show a steady increase over the period and there is a generally upward trend from 2002, which is associated with the promulgation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

These general statistics make it plain that organized violence and torture have taken place on a very large scale since July 2001 at least.

Civil Suits

The Human Rights Forum, through the Public Interest Unit (PIU), has brought cases before the courts on behalf of the victims of organized violence and torture against the Zimbabwe government through the police, the army and other individuals. The government’s legal department, the Civil Division, represented the defendants in these cases. These victims sought compensation for the pain and suffering they endured as a result of ill-treatment and torture by the police and the army.

There have been 291 cases taken to court between 1998 to date. The cases dealt with by the PIU were mainly from Harare (82.5%) and the remainder were from the rest of the country except Matabeleland. This skew in favour of Harare may be because the Human Rights Forum is based in Harare and cases of violence and torture in Bulawayo were most likely handled by other organizations based in Bulawayo, and by private law firms.

Almost 90% of the cases that did reach actual litigation and have been concluded have gone in the favour of the plaintiffs. These findings from the courts provide strong corroboration of the reports of the Human Rights Forum, and strongly contradict the views of the government and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to the effect that spurious or mischievous reports are made about human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Defendants

The majority of the cases were brought against the police, who are sued through the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Home Affairs. With the army being sued through the Minister of Defence. There are several cases of individuals being sued: these are mainly party supporters acting either on their own accord or with the support of their party.

Perpetrators

The Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Defence are co-defendants in 119 cases. The ZRP are the most commonly alleged perpetrators.

It is relevant to point out here that most human rights reports over the past five years do not cite the ZRP and the ZNA as the major perpetrators but ‘war veterans’, ZANU(PF) supporters, the ZANU(PF) Youth League, and the youth militia. The difference between major perpetrators reported in the monthly Political Violence Report and those cited in legal cases is due to the fact that these two organs, the ZRP and the ZNA, can be sued since, even if individual perpetrators cannot be named, the organization that they work for can.

Damages

The fact that the legal process takes so long clearly has a negative effect on the claims. There are cases as late as 1998 where the damages have been awarded, but have not been paid despite numerous letters having been written to the Civil Division of the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for these clients requesting payment. It is not clear whether the delay is deliberate, as perhaps a way of decreasing the damages being paid as the currency continues to devalue, but the delays undoubtedly remove the penalty associated with the award of damages. Out of the 148 closed cases, only 43 were paid the damages claimed, and 23 of those were Food Riots cases dating from 1998.

For example, in case HC9922/03 brought to court in 2003, judgment was granted for the plaintiff in November 2005. He had claimed damages of Z$950,000, which was US$1,185 at the time the claim was made, yet was worth only US$15 when awarded. To date the defendants have not paid the said amount, which now is worth less than US$10.

Torture at Police Stations

Of the 291 cases that were brought before the courts, in 114 the plaintiffs were complaining of assaults and torture by the police at police stations, regardless of whether it was a political or criminal case. There have been cases where people have gone to police stations to report cases and have ended up either assaulted or arrested.

The pattern seems to be that people are arrested, taken to different police stations, and then are often moved to Harare Central where they are usually detained and falanga frequently takes place.

The worst police stations according to the data are Harare Central, Braeside, Southerton and Hatfield. Other police stations of note are Highlands, Rhodesville, Avondale and Mabvuku. In Chitungwiza, the worst police stations are identified as St Mary’s and Makoni. In Manicaland, Buhera and Murambinda Police Stations were the most prominent, and in Mashonaland West, Chinhoyi Police Station and Chemagamba Police Post were the worst, whilst in Masvingo Province, it was Zaka Police Station.

It is evident that significant numbers of policemen (54 in all), including a distressingly high number of members of the uniformed branch, are identified as perpetrators. The Forum has no information as to whether any of those State agents identified as violating human rights and domestic laws have been the subject of investigation, prosecution, or even internal disciplinary proceedings.

Conclusions

  • Since the Food Riots in 1998, there has been a steady decline in the observance of human rights in Zimbabwe.
  • Torture is widespread, and, as seen in the analysis earlier, strongly associated with political events such as elections.
  • As regards torture, the cases mounted in the Zimbabwe High Court do corroborate the more general picture emerging from data in the monthly Political Violence reports of the Human Rights Forum.
  • There is clearly abundant evidence from the courts that state agents, both the police and the army, committed gross human rights violations and torture on a massive scale.
  • There appear to be two different but complementary systems of repression in operation: one that is focused upon elections (and the critical issue of political power), and another that is focused on the suppression of dissent.
  • The data from the legal cases being mounted within the jurisdiction of the Zimbabwean courts themselves are the strongest evidence that claims by the Zimbabwe government that it is being vilified by politically motivated groups using false claims of human rights violations are baseless: the Zimbabwe government itself is conceding liability for the perpetration of gross human rights violations committed by its agents, particularly the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Zimbabwe National Army.

Recommendations

  • Given that the courts have ruled against the ZRP in a very high proportion of the completed cases, and that in others the State has conceded liability, it would seem that a thoroughgoing review of the ZRP is in order.
  • There is clearly a very strong need for some oversight on detentions to be set in place, and certainly there is need for the Special Rapporteur on Places of Detention at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to pay an urgent visit to Zimbabwe.
  • Zimbabwe has not ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, despite Parliament’s recommendation that it do so, and there is an obvious need both to ratify this Convention and to ensure that this is mirrored in the domestic law of the country
  • The army should only be deployed against civilians under very unusual circumstances and, where these circumstances prevail, it is also clear that the army must show considerable restraint in dealing with civilians.

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.