June 26, 2009

VI. Human Rights Abuses by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (October 2008 to June 2009)

The Zimbabwe government's decision in October 2008 to deploy the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF)-which comprises the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ)-to the Marange diamond fields appears to have been a response to the lawlessness and chaos in the fields and the police's inability to control it. It may also have been intended to end illegal mining or diamond smuggling by the police. Instead of creating law and order, however, Human Rights Watch found that the army has committed numerous and serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, and child labor in Marange. The first three weeks of the operation were particularly brutal-over the period October 27 to November 16, 2008, the army killed at least 214 miners.[77] The army has also been engaged fully and openly in the smuggling of diamonds, thereby perpetuating the very crime it was deployed to prevent.


On Monday, October 27, 2008, elements of the Zimbabwe National Army, the Air Force of Zimbabwe, and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) agents from the Office of the President launched Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return) in Marange district. More than 800 soldiers drawn from three army units-Mechanized Brigade and No. 1 Commando Regiment based in Harare and the Kwekwe-based Fifth Brigade-carried out the operation under the overall command of Air Marshal Perence Shiri, commander of the AFZ, and General Constantine Chiwenga, commander of the ZDF.[78]

Under Zimbabwean law, the ZNA cannot undertake civilian operations, such as removing illegal miners from Chiadzwa and providing security at the diamond fields, without a formal request from the police commissioner general and authorization by the commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, President Mugabe.[79] The police made no such request. The legal authority or justification for the army's presence and operations in the diamond fields in Chiadzwa thus likely came with the knowledge and approval of Mugabe as commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.[80]

A military officer familiar with the planning of the operation told Human Rights Watch that an additional motivation for deploying the army was a plan by military intelligence to reward and appease an increasingly discontented army rank and file, who were poorly paid in the country's severe political, social, and economic crisis. He told Human Rights Watch:

Information from the Military Intelligence Department was that discontent in the army was a major threat to ZANU-PF's hold on power. Hundreds of soldiers were resigning... [or] deserting with their weapons. Initially, the military leadership issued orders that soldiers were required to turn in their weapons. Another measure was to require [the] notice period for any person resigning from the army to be [increased to] nine months instead of the standard three months.
Now the final strategy was to give the military direct access and control over [natural] resources. Some soldiers had been assigned to run Grain Marketing Board projects and RBZ's farm mechanization, but it was not enough. Marange diamonds presented another opportunity for the military to benefit.[81]

Four soldiers told Human Rights Watch that the incentive package came in two parts. Soldiers on mission in Marange would first get special allowances directly from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and then be offered a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to benefit directly from diamond smuggling. The plan was for all army units to rotate and take turns to "guard" Marange's diamond fields and take the associated benefits.

At the time of writing this report, five army units had, on a rotational basis, been deployed to Marange: the Mechanized Brigade; No.1 Commando Regiment; Fifth Brigade; Masvingo-based 4 Brigade; and Mutare-based 3 Brigade.[82] When Human Rights Watch visited Marange in February 2009, the army unit on deployment was 4 Brigade from Masvingo. It has since been replaced by Mutare's 3 Brigade.[83]

A military officer who took part in Operation Hakudzokwi told Human Rights Watch that his regiment received a "signal" or directive from the Joint Operations Command ordering immediate deployment of his regiment to Marange for a "swift, ruthless, and secret" operation to permanently remove unlicensed local miners.[84]

Massacres in Chiadzwa (October 27 to November 16, 2008)

According to several soldiers and local miners, the operation began suddenly around 7 a.m. on October 27. Five military helicopters with mounted automatic rifles flew over Chiadzwa and began driving out local miners. On the ground, over 800 soldiers were ferried to Chiadzwa in seven large trucks, several smaller trucks, and an army bus. From the helicopters, soldiers indiscriminately fired live ammunition and tear gas into the diamond fields and into surrounding villages. One local miner who was caught up in the operation on the first day told Human Rights Watch:

I first heard the sound and then saw three helicopters above us in the field. I was not worried. I just assumed it was a team of buyers who had come for business in helicopters as they sometimes did. However, soldiers in the helicopters started firing live ammunition and tear gas at us. We all stopped digging and began to run towards the hills to hide. I noticed that there were many uniformed soldiers on foot pursuing us. From my syndicate, 14 miners were shot and killed that morning.[85]

According to several villagers who witnessed the operation, soldiers fired their AK-47 assault rifles indiscriminately, without giving any warning. In the panic, there was a stampede, and some miners were trapped and died in the structurally unsound and shallow tunnels. According to witnesses, soldiers searched the bodies of dead miners on the field and took all diamonds and any other valuables they found.[86]

During police raids, the miners would only be pursued off the fields but not to their bases in the hills. This military raid was different. One local miner told Human Rights Watch:

The soldiers pursued us into the hills. Together with about 10 other illegal miners, I ran to the hills. Unfortunately we ran into a group of soldiers who stopped us. The soldiers marched us at gun point back to the fields and ordered us to collect the bodies of dead miners whom they had shot.
We gathered 37 bodies and piled them in an army truck and took them to the edge of Nyazika village. There we found two more army trucks offloading 35 bodies. The soldiers then ordered us to dig a grave and bury the bodies. We buried 72 bodies in that grave.[87]

Another miner who took part in the digging of the mass grave told Human Rights Watch:

After burying the bodies we were all taken to an open area nearby and ordered to pitch tents for the soldiers. For a week we were detained by the soldiers who beat us and forced us to sing. They warned us never to talk about what had happened in Chiadzwa. After that we were released.[88]

The military operation continued every day for the next three weeks until November 16, 2008. Military helicopters would fire teargas and live ammunition from the air to support soldiers shooting at miners on the ground. The helicopters used in the operation were temporarily based in Mutare at 3 Brigade army base.[89] A Chiadzwa villager told Human Rights Watch:

On November 8, I discovered 22 decomposing bodies near Chiadzwa Dam. I reported the matter to my village headman. None of the dead were from my village. On the following day, we saw a group of soldiers in army uniform directing some miners using bulldozers to dig a mass grave. All the bodies were buried in that grave on November 9. It is possible they were bodies of diamond miners killed by soldiers.[90]


A local headman told Human Rights Watch that in the three weeks of the military operation, Chiadzwa resembled "a war zone in which soldiers killed people like flies."[91] Another headman was forced to bury five bodies of miners; all five bodies had what appeared to be bullet wounds.[92] None of the bodies were identifiable. A policeman operating in Marange explained that identification of bodies was impossible because often local miners would deliberately go to diamond fields without any form of identification in order to evade police and also because most bodies were discovered in advanced stages of decomposition.[93]

According to a medical officer based at Murambinda Hospital in Buhera:

On November 11 an army truck with seven uniformed and armed soldiers came from Marange with 17 bodies of people they said were illegal diamond miners. The bodies had bullet wounds and were decomposing. The soldiers ordered us to take the bodies and arrange for burial. All the bodies were unidentified and we entered their details as "unknown" and "brought in dead" from Marange.[94]

A villager from Muedzengwa in Chiadzwa who travelled to Murambinda hospital to collect the body of his brother killed by soldiers in the diamond fields told Human Rights Watch:

I travelled to Murambinda after a sympathetic member of the police had told me soldiers had taken my brother's body to Murambinda Hospital. At the hospital I had difficulty identifying my brother's body because he was in a pile of bodies heaped on the floor of the mortuary. I saw several bodies that I suspect were of other diamond miners also killed in the operation.[95]

As the military operation continued, soldiers also began to take bodies of dead miners to Mutare General Hospital, where the bodies were soon piling up in the mortuary there. Medical staff at the hospital told Human Rights Watch:

Army trucks made several trips to this hospital in the first three weeks of November 2008 bringing dead bodies to the mortuary. Between November 1 and November 12, soldiers had brought in 107 bodies from Marange, of which 29 bodies were identified and collected by relatives. 78 bodies we marked "Brought in Dead" (B.I.D) from Marange, identity unknown. We entered cause of death as unknown although many of the bodies had visible bullet wounds. The soldiers who brought them in informed us that the bodies were of unknown illegal diamond miners killed in Marange.
Our mortuary has a maximum capacity of 38 bodies only, so it was extremely overcrowded. We were forced to pile the bodies on the floor. From our hospital patients, five people died due to cholera, bringing the total number of bodies in the mortuary to 83. We could not take in any more bodies, so we started turning away military trucks that brought in dead bodies. On one occasion we turned away a military truck with several bodies. The soldiers told us they would take the bodies to mortuaries in Harare and Chitungwiza.[96]

The 83 bodies were later buried in two mass graves at Dangamvura Cemetery in Mutare on December 19, 2008.[97] On February 19, Human Rights Watch researchers visited Mutare's Dangamvura Cemetery with witnesses who had participated in burying the bodies from Marange. They were shown the two mass graves in which the 83 bodies were allegedly buried.

A local miner who witnessed Operation Hakudzokwi told Human Rights Watch:

On November 3, 2008, we aborted a trip to the diamond fields after a villager warned us that soldiers were shooting and killing people there. As we tried to hike back to Mutare together with many other people, an army truck pulled up where we stood. Without warning, the five soldiers suddenly started to shoot at us. My nephew was shot in the neck and collapsed. We fled in different directions but returned after the army truck had gone. I went to check on my nephew who lay in a pool of blood. He was already dead. Six other people lay dead. Two of them were women. I went and reported the killing of my nephew at Nyanyadzi police station, but as yet no arrests have been made.[98]

Another villager told Human Rights Watch that he saw soldiers kill his brother in Muchena village on November 14, 2008. Soldiers accused the villager's brother of illegal diamond mining before force-marching the two of them to the hills where his brother was shot in the back of the head and died instantly.[99]

The killings appear to have been motivated by more than a desire to rid the fields of illegal miners and smugglers. The use of excessive force by the army seems to suggest that the military aimed to claim the diamonds for themselves and possibly others with connections to the military. The fact that diamond mining and smuggling remain under the control of the army supports the view that the army had no intention of ending illegal activities in Marange, but rather it aimed to control the gems and determine who got access to them.

Torture and Beatings

In addition to these killings, Human Rights Watch researchers found that soldiers tortured and beat scores of local miners and diamond dealers, some of whom died as a result of the injuries that they sustained. For instance, on January 8, 2009, a local Mutare businessman, 32-year-old Maxwell Mandebvu-Mabota, died from injuries from beatings by soldiers. A police officer in Mutare familiar with the case told Human Rights Watch:

On December 24, 2008, Brigadier Sigauke lured Mabota to Nyanyadzi. When Mabota arrived, Sigauke and 17 other soldiers accused him of smuggling diamonds and drove him to the diamond fields where they assaulted him using iron rods, booted feet, clenched fists, thick tree branches, and butts of their rifles demanding information on other buyers of diamonds.[100]


According to a human rights lawyer who interviewed Mabota before he died, the soldiers assaulted Mabota for several hours and stole all of his money and valuables-US$11,000, two mobile phones, and his car-before handing him over to the police, who in turn, took him to a hospital in Mutare. Mabota named Brigadier Sigauke as one of the soldiers who tortured him.[101] A medical doctor who examined Mabota in Mutare added:

As a result of severe and repeated blows using blunt objects, [the] patient [Mabota] suffered kidney failure and perforated lungs. After two weeks of no improvement his family transferred him to South Africa where he died upon arrival on January 8, 2009.[102]

Police made no arrests in connection with Mabota's death. As this report went to press, his relatives had not recovered any of the items allegedly stolen by the soldiers who tortured Mabota.[103]

Three middlemen who travelled to Marange on November 20, 2008, told Human Rights Watch how they had thought the military campaign was over and that it was safe to resume illicit diamond trading:

We drove to Chiadzwa and, as usual, paid the police to access the diamond fields where we parked, and waited to buy diamonds the following day. At about 9 p.m., two armed soldiers knocked on our car as we slept and ordered us out of the car. They took US$2,500 that we had and three mobile phones. They beat us on the soles of our feet and on our backs using iron bars for at least three hours. Around one in the morning they released us and we drove away. We dared not file a complaint with the police for fear of further victimization.[104]

On November 13, 2008, five armed soldiers beat a 66-year-old man and his family in Muedzengwa village, demanding to know the whereabouts of local miners. The man told Human Rights Watch:

The soldiers ordered us [seven men] to a borehole in Rombe village where they beat us using thick tree branches and took turns to immerse our heads in a water trough at the borehole saying, "If you want us to let you go, show us the local miners."[105]

The man's 16-year-old son added that when they told the soldiers that they did not know of any local miners, the soldiers became incensed and beat them more viciously for more than two hours before releasing them.[106]

On November 16, 2008, 14 soldiers rounded up at least 80 villagers at Muchena shopping center and demanded to know where illegal diamond miners were hiding before beating all the villagers using tree branches for more than three hours.[107] The same day, other groups of soldiers were beating villagers at Betera, Mukwada, Tonhorai, and Chakohwa, demanding to know the whereabouts of local miners and the identity of villagers who allegedly worked with the local miners. A headman from Mukwada ward told Human Rights Watch that on that day soldiers beat more than 300 villagers at various locations.[108]

Military abuses in Marange also included denial of medical care to victims of abuse in the community, including those who sustained dog-bite wounds and wounds from beatings or gunshots. Nurses based in the local community told Human Rights Watch that soldiers instructed them not to render medical care to any person who sustained injury by whatever means on the diamond fields.[109]

[77] Human Rights Watch interviews with villagers V.J., D.Z., K.C., S.M., and P.C., Marange, February 20, 2009; with medical officer E.M., Mutare, February 7, 2009; and with medical personnel B.K., A.C., and M.C., Mutare, February 7, 2009. See also "Blitz flushes out 35 000," The Herald, December 11, 2008.

[78]Human Rights Watch interview with soldiers C.R., S.R., and B.G., Harare, February 2, 2009.

[79] Constitution of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Defence Act [Chapter 11:02].                    

[80]Human Rights Watch interview with police officer S.M., Harare, February 26, 2009.

[81]Human Rights Watch interview with soldier S.R., Harare, February 2, 2009.

[82]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with soldier S.R., Harare, May 31, 2009.


[84]Human Rights Watch interview with soldier S.N., Harare, February 3, 2009.

[85]Human Rights Watch interview with local miner H.C., Mutare, February 20, 2009.

[86]Human Rights Watch interviews with villagers V.J., D.Z., K.C., S.M., and P.C., Marange, February 20, 2009.

[87]Human Rights Watch interview with local miner H.G., Mutare, February 5, 2009.

[88]Human Rights Watch interview with local miner A.C., Mutare, February 5, 2009.

[89]Human Rights Watch interview with soldier C.G., Mutare, February 19, 2009.

[90]Human Rights Watch interview with villager T.N., Marange, February 21, 2009.

[91]Human Rights Watch interview with headman P.M., Marange, February 20, 2009.

[92]Human Rights Watch interview with headman B.C., Marange, February 21, 2009.

[93]Human Rights Watch interview with police officer O.D., Mutare, February 21, 2009.

[94]Human Rights Watch interview with medical officer E.M., Mutare, February 7, 2009.

[95]Human Rights Watch interview with villager J.C., Mutare, February 7, 2009.

[96]Human Rights Watch interviews with medical personnel B.K., A.C., and M.C., Mutare, February 7, 2009.

[97] Ibid.

[98]Human Rights Watch interview with local miner M.Z., Mutare, February 6, 2009.

[99]Human Rights Watch interview with villager R.T., Marange, February 22, 2009.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with police officer O.D., Mutare, February 21, 2009.

[101]Human Rights Watch interview with lawyer M.M., Mutare, February 7, 2009.

[102]Human Rights Watch interview with medical officer N.M., Mutare, February 19, 2009.

[103]Human Rights Watch interview with lawyer M.M., Mutare, February 7, 2009.

[104]Human Rights Watch interview with middlemen M.C., R.M., and J.M., Mutare, February 8, 2009.

[105]Human Rights Watch interview with villager J.M., Marange, February 21, 2009.

[106]Human Rights Watch interview with boy C.M., Marange, February 21, 2009.

[107]Human Rights Watch interviews with local miner C.J., Marange, February 21, 2009; and with local councillor F.M., February 22, 2009.

[108]Human Rights Watch interview with headman P.M., Marange, February 20, 2009.

[109]Human Rights Watch interviews with nurses R.M., G.B., and N.Z., Marange, February 22, 2009.