(Johannesburg)- African states should impose sanctions against Robert Mugabe and his illegitimate government in Zimbabwe after the sham presidential runoff, Human Rights Watch said today. The situation in Zimbabwe, where government violence against opposition supporters continued even after the vote on June 27, 2008, will be on the agenda at the African Union summit in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, on June 30 and July 1.
“The African Union can help end the violence in Zimbabwe by taking the strongest possible action against Robert Mugabe and his government,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “African and UN leaders urged Mugabe to postpone the runoff and he refused, amid a wave of violence against opposition supporters that’s still going on. Recognizing the election results would not only reward the sponsors of serious crimes in Zimbabwe, it would irreparably discredit the African Union.”
Human Rights Watch documented numerous incidents of intimidation, violence and manipulation of the vote by Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party before, during and after the June 27 runoff vote. In the capital, Harare, Human Rights Watch documented incidents of reprisal attacks by ZANU-PF supporters against people who did not go out and vote for Mugabe. In the neighborhoods of Chitungwiza and Westlea, several people told Human Rights Watch that in the early hours of June 28, ZANU-PF supporters went door to door, forcing people to show their fingers for signs of the indelible ink which shows that a person voted. The ZANU-PF supporters took those who did not have ink on their fingers to ZANU-PF bases in the areas and beat them with batons and thick sticks. Others were targeted because their names did not appear on a list compiled by ZANU-PF that showed who had voted in particular polling stations.
Zimbabweans told Human Rights Watch that at several polling stations in Harare they were forced to pass through unofficial stations set up by ZANU-PF outside polling booths, and submit their names and details to ZANU-PF officials. They were given cards and ordered to write down the serial numbers of their ballot papers so that ZANU-PF officials could trace those who had voted for Mugabe and those who had not. Human Rights Watch received similar reports from Marondera in Mashonaland East province. In Mkoba, Gweru in the Midlands province, people told Human Rights Watch that ZANU-PF supporters and youth militia were checking people’s fingers for signs of indelible ink and ordering those without the ink to go and vote.
In the days before the vote, ZANU-PF supporters rounded up and beat scores of people in the suburbs of Epworth and Chitungwiza on the outskirts of Harare. Many people sustained serious injuries, including multiple fractures, and were hospitalized at Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare. In one incident, three people told Human Rights Watch that ZANU-PF supporters forced them to attend a rally in Epworth at which former Minister of Mines Amos Midzi spoke. He told people that they would be beaten because they supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); then ZANU-PF supporters beat them with batons and sticks.
After the beatings ZANU-PF supporters informed people that if they valued their lives they would go and vote for Mugabe. The ZANU-PF supporters also told the people that they would go door to door after the vote checking peoples’ fingers for the ink. Human Rights Watch received similar reports of threats and intimidation by ZANU-PF supporters in other suburbs in Harare. People informed Human Rights Watch that ZANU-PF had dubbed this new campaign of violence and intimidation “Operation Where Is the Ink?” or “Operation Red Finger.”
“ZANU-PF’s overall strategy seems to be to eliminate any opposition to the government,” Gagnon said. “Only the strongest possible action from the African Union can help to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life.”
Human Rights Watch urged the African Union to uphold its African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, by declaring the runoff unconstitutional as “an illegal means of maintaining power” and suspending Zimbabwe from the African Union. The African Union should also impose punitive economic measures and other sanctions against the “perpetrators of an unconstitutional change of government” including Mugabe and the members of the Joint Operations Command (JOC). The JOC, which includes the heads of the army, air force, police and prison services, and Minister of Rural Housing Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been widely implicated in planning and inciting the violence that has plagued the country since the general elections on March 29.
Human Rights Watch also called on the African Union to ensure that members of Mugabe’s government and security forces who are implicated in serious human rights violations are excluded from any discussions about a possible government of national unity and do not form any part of such a government. Mugabe, Mnangagwa and Air Force Commander Perence Shiri have a long record of abuses dating back to systematic and widespread atrocities in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the 1980s.
“Mugabe’s brutal hijacking of this election should be reason enough to exclude him from any discussions on a transitional government,” said Gagnon. “Rather than getting a seat in a new government, Mugabe and other officials responsible for serious abuses should be investigated and held to account.”
Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to immediately press for the deployment of peacekeepers to Zimbabwe to stop the violence and protect people from further violence and reprisal attacks.
Human Rights Watch also urged African leaders to appoint a group of impartial eminent persons to replace the failed mediation effort by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
“A group of impartial eminent persons should be taking the lead to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe,” Gagnon said.