(Johannesburg, April 30, 2008) – The Zimbabwean army is responsible for a new wave of rights violations throughout Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said today. Military forces are providing arms and trucks to so-called “war veterans” who have been implicated in numerous acts of torture and other violence against opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) members and supporters.
Human Rights Watch called on the African Union and the UN Security Council to intervene in the crisis to protect Zimbabweans at increasing risk of violence. They should publicly and privately press the government to stop the violence, take action against those responsible, and take steps to ensure that the police and army remain impartial and act to protect all Zimbabweans. They should also urge the government to permit international human rights monitors and the media unfettered access to the country.
In the aftermath of general elections that took place on March 29, 2008, Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses in the worst-affected areas of Zimbabwe – the capital Harare, and the provinces of Mashonaland East, West, and Central, Manicaland, and Masvingo. Members and supporters of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the army, police, and “war veterans” have organized and carried out a brutal campaign of torture and intimidation against anyone perceived as supporting the MDC. According to scores of victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, ZANU-PF supporters and “war veterans” are drawing up lists of MDC activists who are then systematically targeted for abuse. These ZANU-PF allies are also forcing people to attend meetings to swear allegiance to ZANU-PF and denounce those remaining MDC supporters.
For example, Human Rights Watch investigations in Manicaland province indicate that ZANU-PF supporters are collaborating with the army in unleashing a campaign of terror and violence against MDC members and supporters. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that “war veterans” have set up camp at an army base called “Three Brigade,” which is the official military barracks in Manicaland. Sources told Human Right Watch that the army had given the “war veterans” guns and army trucks to carry out raids on the homes of known MDC supporters and members. Military officers are also directly involved in these raids.
On April 23, in Manicaland, a group of “war veterans” and ZANU-PF supporters fired at a group of 22 MDC activists who had enquired about the whereabouts of 12 MDC supporters. Earlier the “war veterans” had abducted the 12 MDC supporters and taken them to Chiwetu Rest Camp – an informal torture center set up by the “war veterans” and ZANU-PF youth in Makoni West, Manicaland province. When the MDC activists arrived at the camp they found up to 50 “war veterans” and ZANU-PF supporters – 12 of whom were armed. The “war veterans” ordered the activists to sit on the ground and then fired shots into the air. As the MDC activists tried to flee, the war veterans fired another round of shots, this time at the group, hitting three of them. One activist, Tabeth Marume, was shot in the stomach and died of her wounds on the way to the hospital. Two other activists were also injured during the incident.
One of the victims of the shooting told Human Rights Watch that the man who fired the shot that killed Tabeth Marume was a known “war veteran.” When the victims informed the local police about the incident, the police refused to take action, claiming that such an incident could not have happened since they had no knowledge of any civilians in the area who were allowed to keep firearms.
The current whereabouts of the 12 abducted MDC supporters are not known. The activists who went to the camp told Human Rights Watch that they saw their colleagues at the camp with their hands tied behind their backs, lying on their stomachs. They said the 12 activists were badly bruised and injured. The activists also reported to Human Rights Watch that they later saw the “war veterans” bundle their colleagues into pickup trucks and drive off.
The lack of arrests and investigations into this and other incidents of organized political violence carried out by ZANU-PF and its allies contrasts starkly with the arrest of 215 people last Friday accused of committing reprisal attacks against ZANU-PF, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that those arrests were politically motivated.
“With increasing incidents of politically motivated, state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe it is essential the African Union and the UN Security Council work together to press for the protection of civilians,” said Gagnon. “Getting international human rights monitors and the media on the ground provides Zimbabweans some protection in the face of the escalating crackdown by the army and police.”