Torture by State Agents in Zimbabwe: January 2001 to August 2002

Against the background of the seriously deteriorating human-rights situation in Zimbabwe, there is increasing evidence of the involvement of formal State agencies such as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) in the perpetration of gross human-rights violations. In recent months, human-rights organisations have seen a dramatic increase in cases in which State agencies are alleged to have committed human-rights violations. This represents a change in the profile of human rights violations, which hitherto have been allegedly committed mainly by Zanu PF supporters, youth militia and so-called “war veterans”.

The current picture is neither surprising nor unexpected. The Human Rights Forum and its members have been issuing reports over the last four years, pointing out the increasing climate of repression and calling upon the government to take serious steps to redress the situation. These calls have fallen on deaf ears. The increasing involvement of State agencies in the perpetration of gross human rights violations is the focus of this document. It will not seek to describe in detail the many cases in which the ZRP, the CIO and the ZNA have been involved in organised violence and torture, but will draw out the major trends by reference to the many reports already published. It will also draw some conclusions from the data available in the past two years.

On the basis of these it is argued that for strong action to be taken and the recommendations of many groups, both Zimbabwean and international, must be taken seriously. The most sensible recommendations are also echoed from a variety of quarters and can be simply summarised as follows:

  • The international community should carry out independent, impartial investigations into human rights violations and should work with Zimbabwean civil society in such investigations;
  • Government, regional and international action is needed to reform the Zimbabwe Republic Police in order to promote the accountability and effectiveness of the police;
  • Government, regional and international action is needed to promote the Zimbabwe judiciary’s independence and effectiveness;
  • The Zimbabwean government should review legislation to repeal or amend those laws that are unconstitutional or violate human rights;
  • The Zimbabwe government should ratify the Convention Against Torture with alacrity.

It is evident to all that the Zimbabwe crisis is reaching critical proportions and many are rightly concerned with the looming food crisis and the spectre of mass starvation. However, other aspects of the crisis must be given full attention and the human-rights crisis most of all. Unless the epidemic of gross human rights violations is dealt with there can be little prospect of adequately managing the other aspects of the crisis, including the severe problem of food distribution. Peace depends upon the civilian authorities doing their jobs impartiality and within the laws of the country and here the police are fundamental. The evidence suggests a crisis within the police that requires urgent action and such urgent action must take place now if the rule of law is not to disappear completely.

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Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.