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forces extend crackdown to public
Human Rights Watch
March 28, 2007
Johannesburg– The government of Zimbabwe
has permitted security forces to commit serious abuses with impunity
against opposition activists and ordinary Zimbabweans alike, Human
Rights Watch said today. Security forces are responsible for arbitrary
arrests and detentions and beatings of opposition Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) supporters, civil society activists, and the general
The Southern African
Development Community (SADC) heads of state are meeting today at
an extraordinary summit in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania to discuss, among
other issues, the political situation in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe is scheduled to attend the meeting. Human Rights Watch
called on the sub-regional organization to take strong measures
to address the escalating crisis.
of Zimbabwe has intensified its brutal suppression of its own citizens
in an effort to crush all forms of dissent," said Georgette
Gagnon, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The
crackdown shows the government has extended its attack on political
dissent to ordinary Zimbabweans, which should prompt the SADC to
Human Rights Watch
recently spent two weeks in Zimbabwe interviewing many victims of
abuse and witnesses to the political unrest in the cities of Harare,
Bulawayo and Mutare. Witnesses and victims from Harare’s high-density
suburbs of Glenview, Highfield and Mufakose told Human Rights Watch
that for the past few weeks police forces patrolling these locations
have randomly and viciously beaten Zimbabweans in the streets, shopping
malls, and in bars and beer halls.
have also gone house-to-house beating people with batons, stealing
possessions and accusing them of supporting the opposition. The
terror caused by the police has forced many families in the affected
areas into a self-imposed curfew after dark.
The recent escalation
of political unrest in Zimbabwe began when police imposed a three-month
ban on all political rallies and meetings in Harare on February
21, 2007. The opposition MDC and civil society activists vowed to
defy the ban. Since then, hundreds of MDC members, including its
leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and civil society activists have been
arrested and detained around the country. On March 15, for example,
14 MDC members were arrested in Bulwayo for failing to notify the
police about plans to organize a demonstration. They were released
without charge the following day. On March 16, four students were
arrested at the University
of Zimbabwe campus and accused by police of being "security
threats" before being released on the same day without charge.
The violent police
disruption of a prayer meeting organized by the Save
Zimbabwe Campaign on March 11, and the subsequent arrest of
MDC and civil society activists, led to skirmishes between opposition
members and security forces in several high-density surburbs in
Harare. According to police reports, three police officers were
injured in a clash with opposition members before the prayer meeting.
Police reports published in the state-run Herald newspaper also
alleged that MDC activists had engaged in acts of violence, including
the petrol bombing of several police stations around the country,
which in one case severely burned three police officers. These events
have triggered a brutal government backlash against activists and
ought to prosecute those accused of violent acts but it shouldn’t
respond to political unrest with ever more brutal and excessive
force," said Gagnon.
On March 14, police
severely beat 10 employees of a local store in Mufakose, Harare.
The shop manager told Human Rights Watch:
The police who
attacked us were more than 50. They hit us just outside the store
as we were locking up for the night and leaving. More than eight
vehicles of police came and they said ‘everybody sit down.’ We were
dressed in our store uniform. I tried to negotiate with them to
say we were just employees but the first one beat me with a baton
and I sat down. They hit me on my leg and my shoulder was also hurt.
They were beating us with batons, rifle butts and they were kicking
us.... They were saying ‘you are MDC people.’ We are now so scared.
In another case
on March 14, one man told Human Rights Watch how a group of 12 policemen
brutally assaulted him at a bar in Glenview, Harare:
I was accosted
by one policeman who told me to come outside. But when I got outside
there were two more policemen armed with batons and they begun to
beat me. They beat me thouroughly and then they told me to go but
I fell down and they started beating me again. They were joined
by other policemen and there was now a chain of policemen beating
me with batons and kicking me in the ribs everywhere. They were
telling me ‘you are beating policemen, don’t do that.’ I told them
that I didn’t know anything about beating policemen but they continued
hitting me. I fell unconscious and when I woke up I was taken to
Harare central hospital where they took an x-ray. They found I had
a broken arm and badly bruised ribs.
girl and her mother were abducted on March 19 at Warren Park D in
Harare by a group of unknown persons, they alleged to be government
supporters. The girl described her ordeal to Human Rights Watch:
We were put into
a car and blindfolded and we didn’t know where we were going. Then
they put us into another vehicle. I think it was an open truck.
They took us to Mount Hampden and we were taken out of the car and
badly beaten with clenched fists and kicked while we were there.
They were saying ‘your father is an MDC supporter and you are the
ladies of Women of Zimabwe Arise and that is why we are beating
you up.’ We were hit on our heads, our backs, our legs, everywhere.
We were just beaten up very badly. We haven’t reported the case
to the police because it is no use. They will just arrest us again
because those people who beat us are part of that. It’s no use.
The girl and other
victims of similar abuses told Human Rights Watch that they believe
members of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization, members
of the ruling ZANU PF party and its ‘youth militia,’ were the likely
perpetrators of these abuses and other acts of intimidation, abduction
and assault of opposition members and civil society activists.
should investigate and if necessary punish abuses by the security
forces," said Gagnon.
government has legal obligations under several international and
African human rights treaties, including the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and
Peoples’ Rights, which require it to respect the right to life and
to physical integrity, as well as the freedoms of association, expression
and assembly. Human Rights Watch called on the government to ensure
respect for these obligations, and launch an immediate and independent
investigation into abuses by security forces around the country.
Human Rights Watch
also called on the Zimbabwean security forces to abide by the UN
Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement
Officials in policing demonstrations. The principles state that
law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duties, apply nonviolent
means as far as possible before resorting to the use of force. Whenever
the lawful use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials
must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the
Human Rights Watch
expressed deep concern that the SADC has so far failed to make a
concerted effort to address the Zimbabwean government’s repeated
violations of fundamental human rights. Zimbabwe is a member state
of the SADC and all member states commit themselves to respect human
government’s flagrant violations of its citizens’ rights have contributed
to the country’s political crisis," said Gagnon. "Southern
African leaders’ failure to take strong action over Zimbabwe would
be a betrayal of the SADC’s commitment to protect and respect human
Human Rights Watch
called on SADC leaders to:
- Strongly condemn
and demand an end to all human rights abuses committed in Zimbabwe,
including the recent acts of violence and brutality by security
forces against Zimabweans, impunity for police abuse, arbitrary
arrests and detentions of opposition supporters and civil society
activists, and the general climate of repression faced by Zimbabwe’s
and publicly condemn any further abuses committed by the Zimbabwean
authorities, such as refusals to allow political opposition rallies
and other acts of political repression. The SADC should stand
united in publicly demanding greater respect for freedom of assembly,
association, and expression in Zimbabwe.
- Call on the
Zimbabwean government to establish an independent commission of
inquiry with participation from the SADC into recent abuses by
has come for Southern African leaders to work together to ensure
the crisis in Zimbabwe doesn’t destabilize the entire region."
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