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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Fighting for a new constitution: Human rights violations experienced by female members of the NCA
    National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) (Report prepared by RAU)
    December 31, 2009

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    Politically motivated violence against women is one of the more regrettable features of contemporary Zimbabwean political life. It is a feature seen in every election since 2000, and is the likely and common experience of any woman who dares to become politically or socially active. It can happen to women merely because they are perceived to be an opponent of ZANU PF, as was so clearly seen in the Presidential run-off in 2008. As was shown in a recent analysis of the violence in 2008, a woman who was an MDC member, or merely perceived to be a supporter of the MDC, was 10 times more likely to report a human rights violation than a female member of ZANU PF. More worrying was the finding that female supporters of ZANU PF were 40 times more likely to have been reported as a perpetrator. It is abundantly evident that the women of Zimbabwe are deeply involved in the political crisis.

    There are a number of reports detailing the violations recently experienced by women in Zimbabwe over the past decade. In 2006, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum [the Human Rights Forum] reported on these, basing its findings on both the cases reported to the Human Rights Forum and its members as well as those cases in which the victims were assisted by the Forum in taking civil action against their perpetrators.

    The report described 448 cases of violations against women, but this was a sub-sample of 967 cases in total. For the period 2000 to 2006, the most common violation reported by women was assault, followed by political intimidation and property destruction, but there were a number of interesting differences found between urban and rural women. It is important to note that during this period Zimbabwe had 3 national elections, i.e. 2000, 2002 and 2005 and it is known fact that violence increases during election years. Rural women were reported to have experienced property destruction, displacement, rape, and torture more frequently than their urban counterparts, whilst urban women reported assault, unlawful detention, and death threats more frequently. A similar pattern was found in 2008.

    The alleged perpetrators during this period were said to be most frequently members of ZANU PF, with the sample alleging ZANU PF supporters in 80% of cases. If ZANU PF youth were added to this total, the members of ZANU PF were allegedly responsible in 86% of all these cases. The Zimbabwe Republic Police [ZRP] were the next most frequent category of alleged perpetrators [11%], followed by "war veterans" [8%].

    Another study carried out on Zimbabwean women victims in the refugee population in South Africa came up with rather more worrying findings. Assault (severe beatings) was the most common form of physical abuse among the sample, but other forms of abuse that are commonly reported in studies of torture - sensory overstimulation, burnings, falanga, and electrical shock were also reported. However, forms of psychological abuse were the most common violations, and it should be remembered that these forms of abuse would conform to torture under the United Nations Convention Against Torture [UNCAT]. As was the case with the Human Rights Forum report, ZANU PF supporters [53%] and ZANU PF Youth [26%] were the commonly mentioned perpetrators. However, militia [10%], police [18%], and "war veterans" [16%] were also mentioned with high frequency.

    The findings in another Human Rights Forum report derived from the legal cases being litigated by the lawyers in the Public Interest Unit [PIU] of the Forum are important because the success rate in the courts has been remarkably high. The plaintiffs received favourable judgments or acceptance of liability in over 90% of cases. This provides strong evidence that state agents were violating human rights.

    Reporting upon 68 women out of 298 cases in all, the Human Rights Forum found that aggravated assault [57%], assault [37%], and torture [21%] were the most frequent violations. The most common alleged perpetrators were the Zimbabwe National Army, reported in 68% of the cases. However, this was probably due to the high percentage of cases from the food riots in 1997, and does not constitute a pattern seen subsequently. However, related to the NCA cases to be described below, it is the reports on the violations experienced by the members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise [WOZA] that are most relevant.

    In a series of reports, WOZA demonstrated the perils of both being an activist and female, showing both the kinds of abuse and the consequences of this abuse. Of a sample of 1983 WOZA members, 42% reported assault, 33% reported physical torture, 64% reported humiliating and degrading treatment, and 78% reported political threats. These violations were all experienced in the course of peaceful protest. Many violations occurred during the course of protests, but it was also the case that equally many took place in police custody.

    As regards the alleged perpetrators, the WOZA members, because of their activism, reported that the Zimbabwe Republic Police [ZRP] were overwhelmingly the most frequent perpetrators, with the Uniformed Branch [43%] most frequent amongst the various branches of the ZRP. War veterans [19%], youth militia [10%], and traditional leaders [10%] were also mentioned with some frequency. Thus, the pattern of violations is somewhat different between women that are self-proclaimed activists and women that merely support a political party - the MDC - or that their members of their families support, or are merely assumed to be supporters due to their non-obvious support of ZANU PF.

    The categories of alleged perpetrators are also different, and activists, such as members of WOZA, report much higher frequencies of violations at the hands of state agents, whilst the other groups (described immediately above) are much more likely to report violations at the hands of members of the ZANU PF political party.

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