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New human right commission faced with daunting task – Peace
March 31, 2010
Human Rights Commission faced with daunting task
This long overdue
Commission was sworn in today. It was provided for under the GPA
and inserted into the Constitution
by Constitution Amendment No. 19, which came into force in February
2009. Under the chairmanship of the distinguished Professor Reginald
Austin, the Commission has a mammoth task ahead of it. Despite constitutional
guarantees of protection from such abuse, Zimbabwe has a long history
of human rights being violated with impunity.
While we continue tolerating
a culture of impunity human rights abuses can continue to flourish.
Already there are a growing number of reports that intimidation
and harassment have resurfaced in some parts of the country following
pronouncements by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai that elections should be held next year. We have still
not dealt with the violent crimes committed in the 2008 election
period, though Article XVIII(j) of the GPA speaks of the role of
the State to prosecute these offences – whether committed
by political party thugs or state agents. [In the few court cases
that have been brought, the State has admitted the complicity of
Of all the human rights
abuses that have taken place in Zimbabwe, that of torture is the
most heinous. It involves premeditation and planning, often total
isolation, and not only incredible infliction of pain but the uncertainty
of if and when it will end. It is a violation of all that makes
It is hoped that the
Commission will persuade the Government to sign the United Nations
Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol. Zimbabwe is
one of the few SADC countries that have not signed this convention.
[It is several years since Parliament passed a resolution recommending
it be signed and a year since Zimbabwe’s failure to sign the
convention was raised in Parliament and co-Minister of Home Affairs
Giles Mutsekwa said he would look into the matter.]
It is also hoped that
each and every commissioner will read the recently launched report
from Crisis Coalition which seeks to expose the use of torture.
It tells the stories of political and human rights activists who
have been tortured at various locations in Zimbabwe, some for months
victims cry out for justice
outrage, shame, indignation, pain, sorrow and compassion: these
must be among the emotions experienced by those who attended the
launching of Crisis
in Zimbabwe Coalition’s report on torture in Zimbabwe:
Cries from Goromonzi: Inside Zimbabwe’s Torture Chambers,
during which, through anguished sobs, a victim recounted her ordeals.
Rutendo Munengami described
how one day in the dead of night in 2003 she was surrounded by a
gang of 10 armed men. Her house was ransacked, she was raped, mocked,
brutalized, unlawfully arrested and threatened with being thrown
into a pool of acid to melt without a trace. She was subjected to
all this barbarity and cruelty simply because she and her husband
were known supporters of a political party. Munengami spoke for
all torture victims and survivors when she declared tearfully: “We
want truth and justice, there can be no healing without it and we
cannot go into elections with unhealed wounds.”
The packed auditorium
at the Book Café in Harare, the venue for the occasion, became
so charged with emotion that Munengami’s cry for justice and
restoration of her dignity as a human being became a collective
cry, with many in the audience weeping openly and others struggling
to remain composed. Munengami’s ordeal is one of 23 accounts
of torture and brutality, narrated by the victims themselves, which
make up Cries from Goromonzi. The book makes painful reading, covering
as it does an unimaginable spectrum of depravity, perversity and
Sexual violation is a
lethal weapon in the arsenal of the merchants of violence and torture,
with female victims describing how they were gang-raped [and as
a result tested HIV positive after their ordeals], had blunt objects
and chilli powder inserted into their private parts or were force
marched naked after having their clothes ripped off. Male victims
were not spared either and many recount in the book how their genitals
were burnt with electric wires, crushed, pierced with sharp objects
or tied up with string. The results of sexual torture are pernicious.
It undermines the whole identity of the person and affects self
image, personal relationships and family life ever afterwards.
torture methods used
Torture survivors told
how they were subjected to electric shocks, attempted suffocation,
and repeatedly having their heads “dipped” in buckets
of water. Some were also suspended upside down from what they described
as the “torture bridge”. Almost all victims were threatened,
verbally abused, brutalized and then denied medical treatment. Some
of these methods of torture caused a global outcry when they were
exposed at the Ahbu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo Bay after the invasion
of Iraq by America and her allies. What a shock it is to discover
that the use of these inhuman methods of intimidation, for which
the Americans were heavily criticized, including by Zimbabwe, were
practised in our country.
of systematic, organized violence exposed
of victims contained in the report prove beyond doubt that the perpetration
of violence and torture in Zimbabwe was so systematic that it cannot
be described as anything other than organized. There was nothing
random and isolated about it. Survivors whose ordeals are recounted
in the book include Minister Nelson Chamisa, who was beaten up at
Machipisa police station on March 11th 2007 and a few weeks later
at Harare International Airport, where he lost consciousness and
almost lost an eye and once again had to be admitted to the intensive
care ward in hospital. Secretary to the Prime Minister, Ian Makone,
was severely beaten at the ZCTU
demonstration in 2006 and again when a gang of eight men armed with
guns, machetes and iron bars surrounded and assaulted him while
he was on his way to the Save Zimbabwe Campaign prayer meeting in
March 2007. Later that same month, armed police and soldiers, arriving
in 16 vehicles, broke into his house in Domboshava at 2 am and ransacked
it. He was abducted and tortured and only released on bail in July.
Victims included journalists Gift Phiri, Andrison Manyere and Luke
Tamborinyoka, members of Parliament, election agents, trade unionists,
opposition and human rights activists and women singled out for
being married to men known to support a political party.
who paid the ultimate price
The poignant stories
are told of the needless deaths of Tonderai Nhira and Better Chokururama,
who both died after brutal encounters with the State security apparatus.
Plaxedes Mutariswa, wife of the late MDC-T activist Tonderai Ndira,
says she continues to live a nightmare since her husband was gruesomely
murdered in the countdown to the run-off election. No one has been
charged with the murder. “I do not know what these people
did to my husband,” she says. “I do not know the pain
and suffering he went through and I do not know what his last thoughts
and words were. But I want whoever murdered my husband to face justice.
Perpetrators should be arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
You cannot take life and live your life as if nothing happened.
As long as it is protecting these people, the inclusive government
cannot bring healing to me.”
and Justice needed for Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Healing
Morgan Tsvangirai gave the keynote address at the launch, which
was held on the anniversary of the day, 11th March 2007, when political
and civil society leaders,including himself, were en route to the
Save Zimbabwe Campaign prayer meeting and were arrested by security
forces and brutally assaulted at Machipisa police station. Mr Tsvangirai
was later hospitalised with head wounds. In his speech he said it
was difficult to ignore the cries of the victims of violence and
torture and acknowledged there would be no healing as long as the
perpetrators of the atrocities refused to unclench their fists.
He said forgiveness could not exist in a vacuum and the publication
of Cries from Goromonzi removed the veneer of normalcy and enabled
the nation to face the truth.
Cries from Goromonzi,
which is illustrated with colour pictures graphically showing the
horrific injuries inflicted on victims, makes for gruelling reading.
It is excruciating to be brought face these unspeakable atrocities
perpetrated against defenceless citizens. It makes one ashamed to
be a Zimbabwean, but as Zimbabweans we need to read it and know
what happened and ensure that it never happens again, for no one
can be truly free in a country where the intrinsic value of every
human being and the sanctity of life are not upheld.
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