Human Rights Research Unit: Annual Report 2003


Throughout the year the Human Rights Research Unit (HRRU) endeavoured to pursue its objective of documenting, researching on and publishing reports on gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe. The task was carried out in an environment where the collection of information was impeded by inaccessibility by the organisation to victims and Government’s hostility to civil society’s efforts to fight for the recognition of human rights in the country.

The HRRU extensively documented politically motivated violence and organised violence and torture throughout the year. These types of human rights violations predominantly took place surrounding elections and civic action and demonstrations. Reports also came in of incidents not necessarily associated with these two situations. Inter-party violence was recorded at higher levels surrounding constituency by-elections held in March, August and November 2003 as well as Rural District and Urban Council elections held in August 2003. Torture by state agents was recorded at high levels in association with demonstrations, particularly in March, April and June 2003.

Perhaps the most determined onslaught on human rights in 2003 was that on the freedom of expression, association and assembly; rights guaranteed by sections 20 and 21 of the Zimbabwean Constitution. The curtailing of these rights was achieved through the use of the repressive Public Order and Security Act [Chapter 11:17] (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [Chapter 10:27] (AIPPA).

The HRRU produced publications targeted at local and international audiences. Monthly Political Violence Reports consistently kept people updated on politically-motivated human rights violations and abuses throughout the year. The Monthly Political Violence Report is the only such source for this information in Zimbabwe. The HRRU also produced periodic publications and material was prepared specifically for lobbying and advocacy purposes.

The HRRU was unable to meet all of the targets set out for the year due to internal factors and external constraints. The HRRU operated below optimum staff levels for the first half of the year. A research assistant was recruited in June 2003 bringing the HRRU to a full complement of staff of a programme manager and two research assistants. The need for time to train the new staff member further affected the programming of the Unit.

Externally the environment was inconducive to research with organisations at times being reluctant to supply information resulting in either non-production or delayed production of reports. In addition, information received was partially representative as information gathering is centred in Harare without any effective system for documenting human rights violations occurring in Zimbabwe’s other 9 provinces, other than through member organisations and other associated NGOs.

Programme Activities

Data Collection and Databases

The Unit continued to manage four separate databases as follows:

  • Politically motivated human rights violations reported to member and partner NGOs as well as the Public Interest Unit of the Legal Resources Foundation (formerly the Legal Unit of the Human Rights Forum);
  • Politically motivated human rights violations reported in the press;
  • ‘Ordinary’ (ie. all other) human rights violations reported to member and partner NGOs as well as the Public Interest Unit of the Legal Resources Foundation (formerly the Legal Unit of the Human Rights Forum.)
  • ‘Ordinary’ (ie. all other) human rights violations reported in the press; Information was provided by the member organisations of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (see page 2 for a list of member organisations) and the following partner organisations: Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), Justice for Agriculture (JAG), National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Zimbabwe Community Development Trust (ZCDT), Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN).

The following newspapers were also used as sources:

  • The Daily News (up until September 2003)
  • The Financial Gazette
  • The Herald
  • The Standard
  • The Sunday Mail
  • Zimbabwe Independent

As previously stated, collection of data is centralised in Harare and therefore information received on human rights violations in other urban areas and all rural areas is limited. Sources of information need to be increased and partnerships forged with organisations outside of Harare. Lack of cooperation from the Zimbabwe Republic Police in verifying incidents has been a challenge to the Unit since 2002 and the situation remains much the same.

The HRRU provided statistics and information extracted from the databases upon request from member organisations, partner organisations and the diplomatic community.


Monthly Political Violence Reports

This report, necessitated by the long-term presence of ‘political’ abuses of human rights in Zimbabwe, was a valuable source of information throughout the year. Twelve reports covering each month of the year were produced. The report was produced in electronic copy and distributed to a mailing list of over 60 local and regional civil society organisations, 40 diplomatic missions and donors and 218 individuals. This was achieved in each month with the report highlighting increased violence occurring around elections. The report is also distributed to over 400 international contacts through the International Liaison Office. This list includes decision makers, journalists and NGOs from all over the world except Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.

With effect from the December 2003, Monthly Political Violence Report, reports produced by the Human Rights Forum will now be sent to the Chairpersons of the 14 Parliamentary Portfolio Committees, the Speaker of Parliament, the Commissioner of Police and the Secretaries of the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The reports for December have been sent out, accompanied by a letter signed by the Chairperson, Mr Albert Musarurwa. This is regarded as part of the process of engaging the Government of Zimbabwe in efforts to bring down levels of organised violence and torture.

The Monthly Political Violence Report has remained a reliable and valuable source of information to local and international civil society organisation, media, individuals, donors and the diplomatic community. It has indeed even been used to keep Governments informed. Electronic communication has been received from the UN Regional Headquarters in Pretoria to the effect that they have found the Monthly Political Violence Report beneficial. Statistics from these reports were also referred to by British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in the House of Commons on 9 December 2003, in support of argument during a debate on Zimbabwe in relation to its withdrawal from the Commonwealth during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

Human Rights Monthly

The Human Rights Monthly was out of production for most of the year, largely due to staffing constraints. A single issue was produced covering the period of a year with a focus on the food crisis. This issue provided information on the right to food, origins of the food crisis in Zimbabwe and politicisation of food aid. 45 000 copies in English, Shona and Ndebele were produced. The quantities produced in each language were as follows: English – 27000, Shona – 11500, Ndebele – 6000. The Human Rights Monthly was distributed free of charge throughout the country via the Human Rights Forum’s member and partner organisations. The newsletter was also distributed through public libraries.
Ad hoc Reports

Two ad hoc reports were produced in 2003:

  • Torture By State Agents in Zimbabwe: January 2001 to August 2002 (March 2003)
  • Zimbabwe, the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth Principles: Compliance or Disregard? (September 2003)

The reports were well received with commendation by local and international CSOs, the media, individuals and the donor and diplomatic communities.

1. Torture By State Agents in Zimbabwe: January 2001 to August 2002 (March 2003)
The report highlighted the increasing involvement of State Agents in the perpetration of gross human rights violations. It drew out the major trends by reference to the reports already published by the Human Rights Forum. 450 copies of the report were distributed to all Embassies, High Commissions, donors and partner organisations. Copies were sent to the chairpersons of the 14 Parliamentary Portfolio Committees in addition to the Speaker of Parliament. Copies of the report Torture By State Agents in Zimbabwe were sent to the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Home Affairs. The remainder were distributed to key contacts as and when identified.
2. Zimbabwe, the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth Principles: Compliance or Disregard? (September 2003)
The report examined obligations upon the Government of Zimbabwe arising from the Abuja Agreement on Zimbabwe, signed in Abuja, Nigeria on 6 September 2001. It further examined commitment by the Zimbabwe Government to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration and its compliance with the recommendations of the Marlborough House Statement and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement. It was published 2 years following the signing of the Abuja Agreement and three months before the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja, Nigeria in December 2003 and was intended to provide some clarification with regard to the Zimbabwean crisis and its causes prior to this meeting. This report was initially produced as a background paper to the meeting “Zimbabwe: Challenges for the Commonwealth” held at Chatham House, London on 8 September 2003. The report was subsequently distributed electronically to the mailing list. 400 hard copies of the report were printed. The report was also used for lobbying purposes by the delegation of the Human Rights Forum to CHOGM.

Advocacy and Lobbying

The Zimbabwe International Book Fair

The Human Rights Forum had a single stand at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) held from 29 July to 2 August 2003. Material displayed on the stand included flyers, Human Rights Monthlies and all previous reports by the Human Rights Forum. Flyers, publications and posters from coalition members that did not have a stand of their own at the Book Fair were also displayed and distributed. Material was also displayed and distributed on behalf of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition of which all members of the Human Rights Forum are in turn members.

Interest during traders’ days was encouraging as was the case on the public days. Overall it was a beneficial exercise, albeit there was insufficient man power to attend to the stand, due to two members of staff responsible for manning the stand falling ill on the days that had been designated for them to assist. As a result some material was ‘looted’ from the stand during the period in which it was unattended. It is anticipated that advance planning will result in participation at the Book Fair being more efficient in 2004 and for the stand to be more fully utilised as a tool for exposure, public awareness and information dissemination by the Human Rights Forum and member organisations that do not have their own stands at the Book Fair.
African, Caribbean, Pacific and European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly (ACP-EU JPA)

The Human Rights Forum attended both ACP-EU JPAs in 2003. The 5th Session of the JPA was held in Brazzaville, Congo from 31 March to 3 April 2003. The delegation from Harare was unable to travel to Brazzaville due to a misunderstanding with South African Airways regarding Congolese visas. However the HRRU produced a compilation entitled “The Alternative Perspective on Zimbabwe: A collection of briefing papers and statements by civil society on the situation in Zimbabwe”. The compilation was distributed to all parliamentarians attending the JPA and was used for lobbying purposes.

The 6th Session of the ACP-EU JPA was held in Rome, Italy from 11 to 15 October 2003. As with the previous session, the HRRU produced a briefing paper on the nature and origins of the crisis in Zimbabwe from civil society’s perspective. The compilation included a paper on transitional options for Zimbabwe, a collection of statements by civil society issued between April and October 2003, the Johannesburg Symposium Declaration and the Declaration of the African Civil Society Consultation on Zimbabwe. The compilation was entitled “The Zimbabwe Crisis – Facts and Differing Perspectives”. It was distributed to all ACP delegates that attended the fringe meeting hosted by the Human Rights Forum alongside the 6th Session of the JPA. Copies were also given to the co-Presidents of the JPA. This document informed the delegates of the situation in Zimbabwe from civil society’s perspective prior to the debate on Zimbabwe that was held during the 6th Session.

Funds Utilized

Outline for Planned Activities 2004

Tying Up Loose Ends

  • Generating cumulative figures of violations recorded by the HRRU from January 2000 to present for reference by interested organisations and individuals.
  • Compilation of dossiers and possibly a report which examines/ analyses all politically motivated murders from March 2000 to the present.
  • Consolidating the HRRU’s past work and updating the information on the election-related human rights violations and political violence in general. The collection of this information and related research should be done with the aim of having comprehensive information available in the run-up to the 2005 Parliamentary elections. A special report in relation to this may be produced in late 2004.


Human Rights Monthly

  • Get up to date on publication schedule within the first quarter of the year and thereafter publish on a monthly basis, producing issues of interest to the target readership
  • Formulate mechanism of measuring the effectiveness of the publication and its suitability for its market

Monthly Political Violence Report

  • Increase sources of information to achieve wider scope
  • Work with paralegals/ research assistants across the country in collection of information
  • Inform legislators and relevant ministries of prevailing levels of violence

Special Report

Produce 2 special reports during the year:

  • Special Report 1 – Human Rights and Fast Track Land Reform. Provide an audit of the land reform process in as far as human rights, civil society’s perspective and transparency are concerned.
  • Special Report 2 – Human Rights and Elections in Zimbabwe. It is proposed that Special Report 2 be produced towards the end of 2004 as a precursor to the March 2005 Presidential Elections. It is intended that the report will present the electoral environment over the past 5 years from a human rights perspective and depict the likely context in which the March 2005 Parliamentary Elections are likely to be held.

Ad hoc Reports

  • Report 1: Conditions of Detention in Zimbabwean Prisons and Holding Cells
  • Report 2: An Analysis of the Attack on Zimbabwean Teachers
  • Report 3: Torture by State Agents in Zimbabwe

Advocacy, Lobbying and Capacity Building

The HRRU will endeavour to be an influential information source for the region on the human rights situation in the country. Information recorded and published by the Unit should be used to lobby visiting regional delegations or any legitimate fact finding mission or investigative delegations. The HRRU must be able to present powerful, accurate information for use in advocacy and lobbying by representatives of civil society travelling to regional and international events.

7 June 2004,

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.