Zimbabwe’s police are major perpetrators of human rights abuses, according to data collected by the Human Rights NGO Forum. The police have been named as torturers and police premises as places of torture in hundreds of cases recorded by the forum. Senior police officers often carry out torture, according to the report. Since 2000 officers of the rank of sergeant or above have been named as perpetrating torture in 59 cases. This refutes government excuses that occasional abuses are carried out a few ‘over-zealous’ low-level officers.
The politicised police force has often refused the protection of the law to those identified as members of the opposition or otherwise hostile to Zanu-PF. For these people the law enforcement agencies have become “instruments of violence against them rather than an institution that offers them protection,” states the report. The police and other perpetrators of abuses often operate with impunity, not facing any legal responsibility for their actions. This impunity allows abuses to continue.
A total of 20,624 violations of human rights have been recorded in Zimbabwe since July, 2001, when the Human Rights Forum began publishing statistics. These are the number of cases, and in many there are several people abused, so the number of individuals suffering abuse could be considerably higher. Since 2004, the number of total abuses has increased, from 2,656 in 2004, to 4,170 in 2005 and 5,063 in 2006. The 2006 figures do not include cases from October, November or December, so the year-end total may well reach 7,000, according to the report.
“Most disturbing is that in 2006 torture has again increased markedly,” states the report which also notes an “enormous increases in unlawful arrest and detention and interference with freedoms, which largely correspond to the promulgation and use of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa)”. The forum has recorded more than 3,200 cases of torture since 2001. Reported cases of torture increased from 136 in 2005 to 335 in 2006. Again, the 2006 figure does not include incidents for October, November and December. Abuses by police and other state agents (army and CIO) have increased in 2006. “The involvement of state agents in the alleged perpetration of gross human rights violations has greatly increased, with the torture of members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) being perhaps the most egregious recent example,” states the report.
Despite numerous complaints and reports, by the Human Rights Forum and other organizations, the government has taken “little remedial or preventative action. The Zimbabwe Republic Police continue to be involved in human rights violations, and, if anything, the abuses have become worse in the past three years.” The forum report urges the government of Zimbabwe to fulfill its constitutional obligations to investigate allegations of abuses. It also calls on the United Nations, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to investigate the allegations of torture by police and other human rights violations.