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Euphoric Zimbabweans cheer soldiers during the 2017 coup

Opinion

Zimbabwe remains a cauldron of human rights violations in the post-Mugabe era

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ZIMBABWE is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in 2018 in general elections.

Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s lack of independence; heavily biased state media favouring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicisation of food aid; security services’ excessive use of force; and lack of precision and transparency around the release of election results.

The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police maintain internal security. The Department of Immigration and police, both under the ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Although police are officially under the authority of the ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some police roles and missions in response to civil unrest.

The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and report to the minister of defence.

The Central Intelligence Organisation, under the Office of the President, engages in both internal and external security matters. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious government restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting women and girls, and the existence of laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although not enforced.

Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reported arrests or prosecutions of such persons.

Politically motivated killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In August the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) ZimRights suspected members of the security forces in the extrajudicial killing of Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance councillor Lavender Chiwaya.

Police ruled there was no foul play. In September the Zimbabwe Republic Police reported killing two men they claimed shot two members of the security forces, killing one and injuring the second.

Security officials claimed they tracked the two men and killed them in a shootout when they resisted arrest. Government officials praised security forces’ “swift response,” while human rights organisations, such as ZimRights, questioned security forces’ version of events and called the incident an extrajudicial killing.

Impunity for politically motivated violence remained a problem. The government did not establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution.

Investigations continued into violence from previous years, including state-sponsored violence, that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians in January-February 2019 and seven during postelection violence in 2018. As of year’s end, there were no arrests or charges in the cases.

Abduction and disappearance
There were no new reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In 2018 the High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but officials failed to do so, without consequence. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.

Torture and other cruel treatment
The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were reports that security forces engaged in such practices with impunity and with the implicit support of government officials.

NGOs reported security forces abducted, assaulted, and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assault on and torture of civil society activists, labor leaders, opposition members, and other perceived opponents of the government.

Throughout the year police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects. In some cases police arrested and charged the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators and accused abduction victims of filing false reports.

Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture on labor leaders and opposition party members during abductions.

Reported torture methods included sexual assault; beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, and sjamboks (a heavy whip); falanga (beating the soles of the feet); forced consumption of human excrement; and oral chemical poisoning, as well as pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin.

As of November there were a minimum of five reports of short-term abductions and assaults or torture allegedly performed by state security actors. These instances typically occurred at night, although some happened in broad daylight. The abductors forcibly removed persons from their homes, parking lots, and press conferences and assaulted them for hours before abandoning them, usually severely injured and naked, in a remote area.

National Assembly member Joana Mamombe and opposition party members Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova reported being removed from police custody, then abducted and tortured by unknown individuals whom credible sources believed to be government security agents, after they were arrested at a protest at a roadblock on May 13.

The three women sustained severe injuries from 36 hours of physical, sexual, and psychological torture.

After the three women reported the crimes to police, they were rearrested and charged with making false statements to police and for faking their own abductions. The case remained pending.

From March to September, during a government-mandated lockdown due to Covid-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers systematically used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distance.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and the civilian authorities who oversee them, including police, military, and intelligence officers.

To date, no one has answered for disappearances, civilian deaths, rape, abduction, or torture allegations from the 1980s to as recently as November. Security forces were firmly under the control of the ruling party and were often directed against the political opposition.

Prisons and detention conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities.

The ZPCS provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities. The ZPCS also allowed churches and other organisations to teach life-skills training.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were often harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported that most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs.

The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) did not provide adequate food, water, and sanitary conditions as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) during the global pandemic.

The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic.

Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs observed during the past several years. As of year’s end, no investigation of the death of Hilton Tamangani in October 2019 had begun. Tamangani was found dead in his cell in the Harare Remand Prison. His lawyers claimed he was severely beaten by police and then denied medical treatment.

NGOs reported female prisoners generally fared better than did male prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards.

Women generally received more food from their families than male prisoners. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own.

NGOs were unaware of female inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed feminine hygiene supplies.

Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.

There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand.

Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys when left together.

Authorities generally sent juveniles to prison rather than to reformatory homes as stipulated in the law, as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles remained vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners.

Prisoners with mental health issues were often held together with regular prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.

According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings.

Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions.

While an estimated 4 200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April to address Covid-19, NGOs and other contacts as well as several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August.

Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were only tested when sent to non-remand prisons.

Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with Covid-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, PPE, and information about the virus, but distribution decreased during the year. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners.

These organisations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding because of the country’s protracted economic crisis.

The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited symptoms of Covid-19 while incarcerated in August (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. Prisoners identified as malnourished received additional meals. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat.

Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water-collection systems.

Diarrhoea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV and Aids-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.

Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV and Aids. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors.

Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialised medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.— US State Department Country Report

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