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Letter to AU Chair H.E. Jean Ping on the situation in Zimbabwe

H.E. Jean Ping
African Union Headquarters
Addis Ababa

Your Excellency,

Congratulations on your election as Chair of the Commission of the African Union. Human Rights Watch has a positively evolving relationship with the institutions of the African Union and we would be pleased to see this relationship continue under your leadership.

I write on a matter which has already been on your agenda in the early days of your new role: Zimbabwe.

Human Rights Violations in Zimbabwe

Human Rights Watch has been monitoring and reporting on the repressive human rights situation in Zimbabwe for several years. Before the March 29 general elections, we documented in depth the ZANU-PF government’s attempt to manipulate the outcome by intimidating Zimbabweans and undermining the integrity of the electoral process. We revealed numerous threats of violent retribution against anyone who decided to vote for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). We demonstrated that ZANU-PF was denying food aid to MDC supporters and abusing state institutions to promote its own candidates. We also found that the election machinery was massively compromised: the voters’ roll contained thousands of so-called “ghosts” and the electoral commission was stacked with pro-Mugabe military and civil servants.

It was evident by the time of the elections that they would not be fully free and fair. Yet, despite this, Zimbabweans voted overwhelmingly for change. They were no doubt influenced by the appalling economic crisis created by ZANU-PF in that country: inflation above 160,000 percent, the productive capacity of the economy destroyed and social institutions in a state of collapse. As you know, Zimbabwe is now dependent on western food aid.

In the aftermath of the flawed elections, Human Rights Watch—together with many other civil society organizations—were disappointed that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union election observers did not address in their statements the clear violations of both the African Union Charter and SADC’s guidelines on the conduct of elections. This apparent willingness to turn a blind eye may have encouraged ZANU-PF to turn the institutions of the state even more aggressively against those Zimbabweans seeking democratic change.

ZANU-PF’s reaction to defeat has been brutal. The first phase was denial: it didn’t accept the electoral numbers and tried to change them. But it could not manipulate the parliamentary votes ex post facto because each polling station had published its returns. So it then focused on the presidential poll, delaying the announcement so that it could manipulate the figures to ensure a runoff.

While these efforts were underway, ZANU-PF launched a vicious campaign of violence against MDC supporters to deter them from voting in a second round. Human Rights Watch has carried out extensive research on the ground in Zimbabwe since March and reported on this brutal campaign. ZANU-PF’s campaign has intensified with each passing week. We have reported that it is being orchestrated by people very close to Robert Mugabe at the heart of ZANU-PF. It involves the army, the police, senior prison officers, the intelligence agencies and so-called “war veterans” (most are too young to have fought in the 1970s).

In recent weeks, ZANU-PF has detained, beaten and tortured thousands of MDC supporters and activists, along with individuals such as teachers suspected of being MDC members. Our research confirms that ZANU-PF has been responsible for the deaths of at least 27 people. Independent civil society organizations and doctors’ organizations confirm this pattern and these numbers. Our evidence is solid. Here are three of the many cases we have documented:

  1. On May 5, ZANU-PF supporters led by retired Major Cairo Mhandu, forced some 300 people to attend a “re-education” meeting in Mashonaland Central, tortured many and six men died as a direct result. Participants were told they should come forward and confess their links with the MDC and surrender to ZANU-PF. When no one came forward, a ZANU-PF supporter grabbed a 76-year-old woman and started beating her buttocks with logs. Three men intervened, saying they were MDC to stop the beating. During that day, some 70 people were publicly beaten, some 30 were hospitalized, many requiring skin grafts. Of the six men who died, three had severely mutilated genitals. No one has been arrested for these criminal acts and such “re-education” meetings continue.
  2. On April 23, one woman, Tabeth Marume, was shot dead in Manicaland when 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 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, including Ms. Marume, who died of her stomach wounds on the way to the hospital.
  3. In mid-April, a man from Mudzi, in Mashonaland East (whose name we withhold for his own safety) told Human Rights Watch that he received severe wounds to his buttocks after being beaten with logs by people he believes were ZANU-PF supporters. His attackers told him that if he went to the hospital for treatment, they would come back and kill him. By the time he managed to find medical treatment in Harare, his flesh had begun to rot. This additional problem of infected torture wounds is growing as threats against doctors increase and roadblocks set up by ZANU-PF prevent people accessing treatment in the capital. Our own figures almost certainly underestimate the numbers of torture victims: many in rural areas are simply unable to overcome the travel restrictions imposed on their communities.

African institutions and governments have a responsibility to intervene to minimize the consequences of this abusive behavior. The lives and livelihoods of thousands of Zimbabweans are at severe risk. For its part, ZANU-PF is trying to blame the MDC for the violence. No one should be fooled by this ruse. Human Rights Watch has evidence from more than 50 victims of political violence that ZANU-PF and its allies are the main perpetrators.

Last week, the world heard Patrick Chinamasa—a former justice minister who lost his seat in the election—saying that if Zimbabweans were to vote for the opposition (in his words, “to unfree” themselves) then ZANU-PF would ensure that this did not happen. You will also be aware that Emmerson Mnangagwa has been appointed to head the ruling party’s Joint Operations Centre (JOC) in Harare. During the notorious massacres in Matabeleland in the 1980s, aimed at Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU, tens of thousands of civilians were tortured and killed. The same people who ran that operation—including Mnangagwa, air force chief Perence Shiri and army chief Constantine Chiwenga—are directing ZANU-PF’s latest campaign of organized violence. The tactics, methods and consequences of the two operations are disturbingly consistent.

We are deeply concerned that ZANU-PF will use all force at its disposal to “win” the second round of the presidential election. The recently announced date of June 27 provides a small window to prepare for the runoff. African Union observers will be vital, but the runoff will have no credibility without an end to violence and accountability for the abuses.

Recommendations to the African Union

Human Rights Watch is concerned that what has occurred in the past few weeks is just a prologue to an intensification of violence that will last until the eve of the presidential runoff. We greatly fear that even more Zimbabweans will die or be brutalized if the African Union does not intervene decisively. We are asking the African Union to take the following actions:

First, the violence must stop. This can only be achieved if the African Union speaks out clearly and demands that ZANU-PF halt its campaign of violence, torture and intimidation. If the African Union refrains from speaking out it will only encourage more abuses. Public statements of concern are essential to ensure that the victims are heard and the abusers are exposed.

Second, international human rights monitors must be deployed immediately to Zimbabwe and in large enough numbers to cover all parts of the country. This will help deter abuses from taking place and ensure that abuses that do occur are promptly and impartially investigated. Any monitors must have a robust mandate to investigate any reports or allegations of abuse, have full freedom of movement and access to local civil society organizations, and publish their findings.

Third, foreign election observers must have adequate time in an environment free of political violence to carry out their function properly. It would be unacceptable for ZANU-PF to limit the work of foreign election observers to one week before the vote or to compel them to operate in situation wracked by continuing violence.

Fourth, the African Union should appoint a committee of eminent African persons to help resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis. President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts have not produced results. Mbeki has allowed Mugabe to set the agenda of the mediation. When Mbeki was in Harare last week, he did not take the time to visit the hundreds of victims of ZANU-PF’s violence. He has since failed even to mention in public any concern about ZANU-PF’s violent campaign, even though his officials have been presented with clear evidence. This is not evenhandedness.

Finally, the African Union should state clearly that human rights abusers have no place in Africa’s present or future. Impunity must be made a thing of the past. There must be full accountability for the serious crimes committed in Zimbabwe. Africa and the wider international community owes it to their victims to clearly tell Mnangagwa, Shiri, Chiwenga, and others responsible that such behavior will not be tolerated.

We urge the African Union to act quickly and decisively on Zimbabwe. This could save lives and send a clear message to others contemplating elections this year (notably Cote d’Ivoire and Angola) that there is a cost to tampering with the democratic will of the people.

Human Rights Watch plans to visit Addis Ababa in early June and would be delighted if you could find time to discuss Zimbabwe and other dossiers of importance. If you would find it useful full details on our reporting can be found at


Jon Elliott
Africa Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch

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