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Zimbabwe: The face of torture and organised violence
Torture and Organised Violence in the run-up to the 31 March 2005 General Parliamentary Election

The Redress Trust
March 2005

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For the past five years Zimbabwe has been racked by an economic, social, political and human rights crisis, which no one inside or outside of the country has been able to reverse. The European Union, the United States of America and other Western nations have applied selective financial and travel sanctions against President Mugabe and other Zanu-PF leaders, and some of these powers have also made unsuccessful attempts to challenge Zimbabwe's human rights record in international fora, including the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights. These actions have had little discernible effect. Certain African Governments, led by South Africa's President Mbeki, continue to rally around the Zimbabwe Government, apparently finding sympathy with Mugabe's argument that some Western nations, led by the United Kingdom, have tried to isolate him and his Government because of the radical land distribution exercise launched in 2000.1 Even as Zimbabwe prepares for the 31 March 2005 general parliamentary election the official Zanu-PF campaign is simply and overtly "anti-Blair": the rhetoric is that a vote against Zanu-PF is a vote for re-colonialisation, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) being portrayed as nothing more than a front for Western, especially UK, interests.

Human rights groups, on the other hand, have consistently pointed to the widespread organised political violence, including the use of torture, which marred the June 2000 parliamentary elections and the March 2002 presidential election, and which have also been a marked feature of subsequent mayoral, local government and by-elections. Over the past five years there have been numerous national and international reports by reputable organisations which have documented these abuses and concluded that the vast majority of the perpetrators of this violence and torture have been persons and structures under the control of the Mugabe Government: the police, the army and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the youth militias, the so-called war veterans, and Zanu-PF party structures.2 In the face of these reports, including one from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), some of Mugabe's external allies have gradually tried to nudge him towards staying in power through "free and fair elections." The South African Government in particular seems keen for the 31 March 2005 result to be accepted as one freely and fairly arrived at. What both it and the Zimbabwe Government are seeking is an end to the isolation of Zanu-PF. There is an increasingly bitter and violent intra-Zanu-PF struggle for Mugabe's successor, and the solution for Mugabe and Mbeki is seen to be a controlled handover of power to somebody in Zanu-PF who can turn the economy around, re-build the country's tarnished image and gradually restore the rule of law and a semblance of democratic governance. The fundamental question is whether it is possible to have a free and fair election at this time in Zimbabwe's history, given both the scale and intensity of previous abuses, the extent to which these abuses have damaged the structures necessary for such a democratic exercise, and the ever-lurking threat of violence and torture which breaks out periodically as the election date approaches. In November 2004 the Redress Trust (REDRESS) issued a report on the trends and patterns of organised violence and torture in Zimbabwe, detailing their associations with elections and showing clearly and graphically that in recent years organised violence and torture were most closely associated with elections.3 The current report expands on this, examines developments in 2004, and produces additional material on human rights violations in Zimbabwe. Also included are selected case studies on torture in recent years, some relating directly to political activity and others not. The purpose of these case studies is to illustrate the range of torture victims and the methods of torture employed. A recent trend is its use against Zanu-PF supporters themselves, so deeply is it ingrained in certain sections of the police but particularly within the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

As Zimbabwe moves towards these elections it is important for all those concerned with the result to more fully understand the reality of the state of human rights in that country. Although the polling day itself may be relatively peaceful it has been repeatedly made clear, and it is indeed trite, that the democratic process for the holding of a free and fair election is a process and not an event. To ignore or minimise what has led up to the election requires brushing aside not only developments in more recent months but also what the whole social and political fabric of Zimbabwe has endured over the past several years. This paper is intended as a contribution to that better understanding.

The reality of Zimbabwe today is that the legacy of organised political violence and torture over the past few years has deeply scarred the political climate of that country, and the legacy endures as each day witnesses new reports of human rights violations as the election draws near.4

In these circumstances, what can the international community do? Clearly, any practical steps which can be taken to monitor the elections should be embraced, despite the manifold obstacles which have been placed in the path of those wishing to do so, and the outright ban on "Western" observers. But the fact remains that what observers arriving in Zimbabwe before the election might not see is the cumulative result of the passed five years: widespread fear, hopelessness and despondency which is likely to lead to a low turnout. This, coupled with a myriad of problems concerning the preparations for the poll, ranging from serious irregularities in voter registration to the manipulation of constituency boundaries, already casts a long shadow over the election. In the words of Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary General of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU): "It would take a miracle to save the credibility of the general election to be held in Zimbabwe".5

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1 Zanu-PF denies that the land reform programme was suddenly implemented in 2000 as a pretext and method for staying in power. However, the violent and widespread invasions of commercial farms began in early March 2000, a fortnight after the Government lost the Constitutional Referendum which would have entrenched its position, and a few months before the June 2000 general parliamentary elections in which it faced a real challenge in the shape of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC, only formed in September 1999, had been one of the main bodies leading the call for a "No" vote in the Referendum. Faced with almost certain defeat at the polls in a free and fair June election, Zanu-PF unleashed the campaign of terror that continues to this day. All serious players in Zimbabwe recognize the need for land reform, which nevertheless was racially manipulated in early 2000 as a crude populist issue and used to physically attack all those opposed to Zanu-PF hegemony. In the process the rule of law has been destroyed.
2 See REDRESS: ZIMBABWE: Tortuous Patterns Destined to Repeat Themselves in Upcoming Election Campaign, London, November 2004: For a comprehensive survey and analysis of Zimbabwe from the perspective of torture survivors see REDRESS: Reparation for Torture: A Survey of the Law and Practice of Torture in 30 Countries: Zimbabwe Country Study, London, March 2003:
3 See REDRESS: ZIMBABWE: Tortuous Patterns Destined to Repeat Themselves in Upcoming Election Campaign, London, November 2004.
4 The Zimbabwe Standard reported on 13 February 2005 that drunken soldiers had beaten up 15 MDC members the previous week in Nyanga, accusing them of holding a rally without permission of the army. An online report on 23 February 2005 (I-Net Bridge (SA)) quoted the MDC as saying that another group of 20 soldiers attacked MDC officials coming from Masvingo where the MDC had launched its election campaign for the general election. A number of MDC candidates were said to have sustained injuries all over their bodies as they were kicked with booted feet and punched. On 28 February 2005 The Standard reported that suspected Zanu-PF activists, including youth militias and "war-veterans" were terrorising people at night in Mutare. Those who failed to produce Zanu-PF membership cards were severely assaulted.
5 Cape Times (SA), 25 February 2005

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