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"Who guards the guards?" Violations by Law Enforcement Agencies in Zimbabwe, 2000-2006
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
December, 2006

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Executive Summary
Zimbabwe’s police are major perpetrators of human rights abuses, according to data collected by the Human Rights NGO Forum.

Since 2000 the Zimbabwe Republic Police have changed from a generally professional force respected for even-handedly enforcing the country’s laws to a force that used by the ruling party, Zanu-PF, to suppress all perceived opposition and retain power.

The police have been named as torturers and police premises as places of torture and other abuse in hundreds of cases recorded by the Human Rights Forum.

Torture by police is often carried out by senior police officers. Since 2000 officers of the rank of sergeant or above have been named as perpetrating torture in 59 cases. Constables have been identified in 91 cases. This refutes government excuses that occasional abuses are carried out a few ‘over-zealous’ low-level officers.

Increased brutality is seen when police operate in conjunction with the army.

The report lists several statements by President Robert Mugabe and cabinet ministers in which the law enforcement agencies are encouraged to inflict abuses. Such statements have encouraged a climate of abuse where violations are condoned and even state-sponsored, according to the report.

The politicised police force has often refused the protection of the law to those identified as members of the opposition or otherwise hostile to Zanu-PF. For these people the law enforcement agencies have become "instruments of violence against them rather than an institution that offers them protection," states the report.

The police and other perpetrators of abuses often operate with impunity, not facing any legal responsibility for their actions. This impunity allows abuses to continue.

A total of 20,624 violations of human rights have been recorded in Zimbabwe since July, 2001, when the Human Rights Forum began publishing statistics. These are the number of cases, and in many there are several people abused, so the number of individuals suffering abuse could be considerably higher. Since 2004, the number of total abuses has increased, from 2,656 in 2004, to 4,170 in 2005 and 5,063 in 2006. The 2006 figures do not include cases from October, November or December, so the year-end total is expected to be even higher.

"2006 may record nearly 7,000 violations by the end of the year," warned the report. "Most disturbing is that in 2006 torture has again increased markedly." There has also been "enormous increases in unlawful arrest and detention and interference with freedoms, which largely correspond to the promulgation and use of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa).

More than 3,200 cases of torture have been recorded since 2001. The highest number of torture cases, 1,172, was recorded in 2002, the year of presidential elections. Reported cases of torture increased from 136 in 2005 to 335 in 2006. Again, the 2006 figure does not include incidents for October, November and December.

Abuses by police and other state agents (army and CIO) have increased in 2006. "The involvement of state agents in the alleged perpetration of gross human rights violations has greatly increased, with the torture of members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) being perhaps the most egregious recent example," states the report.

Despite numerous complaints and reports, by the Human Rights Forum and other organizations, the government has taken "little remedial or preventative action. The Zimbabwe Republic Police continue to be involved in human rights violations, and, if anything, the abuses have become worse in the past three years."

In the report, the Human Rights NGO Forum urged the government of Zimbabwe to fulfill its constitutional obligations to investigate allegations of abuses. "Instead of denying that any such abuses are taking place, and accused the human rights organisations of fabricating them, the government should properly investigate all these allegations and, where they are found to have substance, ensure that the perpetrators are brought before the courts."

The report also calls on the United Nations, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to examine the allegations of torture by police and other human rights violations. "The international community should carry out independent, impartial investigations into human rights violations and should work with Zimbabwean civil society in such investigations."

The report concludes that a combination of government, regional and international action is needed to reform the Zimbabwe police so it becomes an accountable force offers all citizens protection under the rule of law.

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