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"We have degrees in violence"
The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, The Open Society Institute, and The Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
December 10, 2007

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"The 2008 Presidential campaign has already begun. This violence is the strategy of the ruling party. They want to eliminate opposition now so that the situation will appear calm in the period before the election."

-Zimbabwean Human Rights Advocate


I. Summary
II. Methods
III. Background
IV. Trauma Experienced by Investigation Participants
V. State Sponsored Torture and Violence after March 11
VI. Photographs: Victims of Political Violence and Torture
VII. Health Consequences of Torture and Political Violence in Zimbabwe
VIII. Poor Conditions of Detention and Delays in Access to Medical Care and Legal Assistance
IX. Harassment of Doctors and Lawyers Assisting Victims of Torture
X. Risks and Limitation of this Investigation
XI. Tables


It is less than one year before Zimbabwe will hold the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2008. Since early 2007 the country has been subject to an upsurge in political violence that has seriously undermined the democratic process and created a presumption that these elections will not be free and fair. State-sponsored violence directed toward any individuals or groups who are perceived to be critical of President Robert Mugabe, his government or his policies, manifests a strategy to demobilize Zimbabweans from mounting or supporting an organized opposition campaign. The international community and Southern African Democratic Community (SADC) have attempted to play a role in encouraging a democratic process by introducing South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, as a mediator between the ruling and opposition parties. However, the international community remains ineffective in its efforts to stop states-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe.

On March 11, 2007 a coalition of church and civic organizations known as the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, organized a prayer rally in Highfield, a township near the capital Harare. Police used violence and arrests to prevent the peaceful prayer rally. They shot to death an unarmed activist, Gift Tandare, and subsequently arrested several leaders of the major opposition party-the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)-as well as rank and file attendees. While the brutal beatings and interference with medical care of the prominent MDC leaders following March 11 received considerable media attention, the persisting torture and political violence, particularly that perpetrated against rank and file political activists, have not been documented by international health and human rights experts. This report details the statesponsored violence that occurred in the wake of the highly publicized events of March 11, 2007.

Researchers from the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture traveled to South Africa and Zimbabwe during the last week of April and first two weeks of May 2007 at the request of local nongovernmental organizations to evaluate reports of torture and political violence. This report is based on the detailed testimony and medical examination of 24 individuals who were subjected to torture or political violence during March and April 2007. Additionally, interviews were conducted with more than 30 health professionals, human rights advocates and representatives of non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

This investigation, the first conducted by international health professionals with expertise in the evaluation documentation and treatment of torture victims since the March 2007 violence, provides evidence that the Zimbabwean government is systematically utilizing torture and violence as a means of deterring political opposition. This state-sanctioned violence targets low-level political organizers and ordinary citizens, in addition to the prominent members of the political opposition. The medical evaluations of recent victims of torture and political violence document physical and psychological evidence of violent human rights abuses and the devastating health consequences of such political violence. Victims were detained under inhuman conditions and denied appropriate access to medical and legal assistance. Members of civil society, including doctors and lawyers assisting victims of political violence, described being subjected to harassment by government authorities.


In addition to prominent opposition leaders, ordinary MDC members and local community organizers are being systematically tortured and targeted by Zimbabwean authorities for political violence. This assessment is supported by the testimony and medical evidence of the 24 Zimbabweans victims of torture and political violence interviewed and evaluated for considered, necessarily, to constitute torture. this report. All had clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse corroborating their testimony. These victims of political violence included both men and women. They were not randomly targeted, but included national and local leaders of the political opposition, community organizers, and ordinary citizens. Zimbabweans who were arrested and detained for their political activities described being detained under filthy, inhuman conditions as well as being denied basic necessities such as food, water, light, and blankets.

This torture and political violence has devastating physical, psychological and social health consequences. At the time of evaluation, all 24 of the Zimbabwean victims of torture and political violence evaluated for this report continued to suffer from substantial and often debilitating physical and psychological symptoms as a direct result of their abuse. Individuals suffered from severe pain, broken bones, and unhealed wounds as a result of beatings they had endured. Their backs and legs showed clear marks from whips or the imprints of clubs used to beat them. The psychological scars, including depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and associated symptoms such as profound sadness, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, and recurrent memories of the trauma were also evident. Victims frequently described profound fear of further torture or death as well as threats to their family.

Furthermore, Zimbabwean authorities are interfering with and delaying access to medical and legal services for victims of torture and political violence. News accounts have neglected to describe the systematic interference with access to medical and legal services for victims of violence. Such interference not only infringes upon the rights of these individuals and compounds their abuse, but is designed to increase impunity for abuse by preventing health workers and legal professionals from evaluating and documenting the abuse. Many of the Zimbabwean victims of torture/political violence interviewed described experiencing substantial delays in obtaining medical evaluation and treatment as well as being denied access to their lawyers.

Doctors and lawyers assisting victims of torture and political violence described being threatened and harassed by police and other government authorities. For example, medical and legal professionals we interviewed received threatening phone calls both at their homes and at work warning them not to interfere with state-sponsored violence.

Finally, Zimbabwean victims of torture or political violence fleeing to South Africa often endure substantial difficulties in obtaining refugee status and accessing health services. Zimbabwean victims of political violence as well as Zimbabwean advocates in South Africa described the many problems that Zimbabwean refugees encounter upon their arrival in South Africa. This includes problems with obtaining refugee status or political asylum; problems with attaining adequate food and shelter; difficulty getting appropriate and necessary healthcare; and ongoing fears of deportation and discrimination.


1. Recommendations to the Zimbabwean Government:

  • Immediately cease and investigate all acts of torture and state-sanctioned political violence

    The Government of Zimbabwe should immediately cease all acts of torture and state-sponsored violence, conduct transparent and credible investigations of all allegations of torture and violence and publicly condemn such acts. There is an urgent need to resolve the political impasse in Zimbabwe, and this must begin with an end to state sanctioned political violence, including torture, arbitrary arrest, and targeting individuals for political violence based on their political affiliations.

    Although Zimbabwe is one of 51 countries that has not ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, it is party to several international treaties that specifically prohibit torture, including The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights. Furthermore, Zimbabwe's own Constitution (Section 15) outlaws torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  • Ensure adequate and timely access to medical and legal services for victims of torture and political violence

    Individuals suffering from injuries and illness in state custody, including victims of torture and political violence, must have access without delays to adequate medical and legal services. The Government of Zimbabwe must take immediate steps to protect health professionals and legal service providers from harassment and intimidation.

  • Ensure accountability and legal prosecution of perpetrators of torture and political violence

    Individuals, including police, ZANU-PF party members and members of related organizations who have participated in torture and political violence must be held accountable in courts of law for their actions. Independent investigations into the excessive use of force on March 11 2007 as well as investigation of the organizations responsible for this and subsequent violence must be undertaken.

2. Recommendations to the Zimbabwean Medical Association:

  • Speak out against violations of human rights including torture, political violence and denial of medical care to detainees

    The Zimbabwean Medical Association (ZIMA) should work to ensure that the Zimbabwean government upholds nationally and internationally recognized human rights standards including prohibitions of torture and the provision of medical care for detainees. Furthermore, ZIMA should see that physicians can fulfill their professional obligations to maintain clinical independence without harassment and intimidation.

3. Recommendations to African leaders and the International Community:

  • Governments and international bodies including members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the United Nations Security Council, and the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights must hold the Zimbabwean government accountable for its obligations under international law regarding prohibition of torture and political violence.

    African and international leaders must strongly and publicly condemn acts of torture and state sanctioned political violence in Zimbabwe.

  • Medical and legal professional organizations and nongovernmental organizations both in Africa and internationally must condemn acts of torture, state sanctioned political violence in Zimbabwe, obstruction of access to medical and legal services for detainees, and harassment of medical and legal professionals assisting victims of political violence.

    Medical and legal organizations in Africa and internationally, need to support colleagues operating under duress and use all regulatory and professional organizing bodies to call for internationally endorsed standards for legal representation and provision of medical care.

4. Recommendations to President Mbeki and the South African Government

  • President Mbeki must provide strong leadership in opposing torture and political violence in Zimbabwe

    President Mbeki must use his role as a democratic leader in the Southern African community to uphold international standards for opposition of torture and political violence and promotion of free and fair elections and basic human rights including a fair and impartial judiciary and rights of detainees in Zimbabwe.

  • Zimbabwean victims of torture and political violence, for whom it is not safe in Zimbabwe, should be granted political asylum consistent with the protections of international law. Appropriate access to medical, mental health and social services should be ensured

    South Africa must provide protection for Zimbabweans fleeing persecution and political violence. Given recent events and historical increases in violence prior to Zimbabwean elections, the South African Government and refugee organizations should prepare for an increase in the number of Zimbabwean victims of torture and political violence. Steps should be taken to ensure basic and non-discriminatory access to medical and social services.

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