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  • 2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles

  • Electing to rape: Sexual terror in Mugabe's Zimbabwe
    Aids Free World
    December 10, 2009

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    Executive Summary

    In the weeks immediately after the June 2008 presidential elections in Zimbabwe, AIDS-Free World received an urgent call from a Harare-based organization. The human rights activists were overwhelmed with reports from women associated with the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who had been raped by members of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, in a vicious campaign to intimidate voters and emerge victorious in the presidential election. In response, AIDS-Free World undertook a series of investigative trips to the region with teams of lawyers to interview survivors of this violence.

    What emerged from the testimony was a brutal, orchestrated campaign of rape and torture perpetrated by Mugabe's ZANU-PF youth militia, agents of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), and people who identify themselves as veterans of the liberation war (known as war veterans) affiliated with ZANU-PF. The exceptionally violent rapes, as described by women from every province of Zimbabwe, were often nearly fatal. Survivors' terror was prolonged by fears that their attackers were among the 15% of adults infected with HIV in Zimbabwe.

    The women's disturbing accounts, told to the AIDS-Free World legal team over the course of more than 300 hours of interviews and detailed in this report, demonstrate that the rape campaign waged by ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe was both widespread and systematic. Every victim supported the MDC, and in every attack the perpetrators were clearly identifiable as ZANU-PF youth militia and war veterans. Striking patterns recurred throughout the testimonies of the seventy survivors and two witnesses and cannot be coincidental.

    Accountability for these crimes is critical and serves several purposes: it punishes the perpetrators; it provides justice for the victims; it pierces the veil of impunity that protects Zimbabwe's highest officials and enables them to maintain their abusive regime at the cost of women's lives and health; and it deters future rapes.

    Within Zimbabwe, both the police and the legal infrastructure are so seriously compromised as to make justice for systematic rape inside the country impossible at this time. Furthermore, existing Zimbabwe law does not allow for the prosecution of rape as an international crime, perpetrated in a systematic fashion.

    Yet several possibilities do exist for legal accountability in the region, and are summarized in this report. The principles of command responsibility and universal jurisdiction, the powers of regional tribunals, and the attention of international courts and commissions are all potential avenues for justice that have yet to be pursued. Several bodies could and should also take action against Zimbabwe to restore justice and prevent future crimes against humanity.

    Zimbabwe's regional neighbors, especially the southern African countries to which so many rape survivors have fled, must take responsibility for providing protection and assistance to the victims. If survivors cannot be assured of their security, they will not be able to recover and they will not be able to come forward and testify about the crimes they have endured.

    The next elections in Zimbabwe are just around the corner, and ZANU-PF is already gearing up for its next campaign of sexual terror. This report asserts that Mugabe and his henchmen can and must be brought to justice. Continued impunity will be a green light for the next rape campaign, and the women of Zimbabwe—and the southern African region—will pay the price.

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