(Johannesburg) - Despite a power-sharing agreement, Zimbabwe's de facto ruling party continues to use the police and justice system as a weapon against opposition supporters and civil society, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch said Southern African leaders meeting on November 9, 2008, should insist the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) fulfill its formal commitment to respect human rights, made when it signed an agreement on September 15, to share power with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The 47-page report, "'Our Hands Are Tied': Erosion of the Rule of Law in Zimbabwe," documents how ZANU-PF has compromised the independence and impartiality of judges, magistrates and prosecutors and transformed the police into an openly partisan and unaccountable arm of ZANU-PF. The report also documents how police routinely and arbitrarily arrest and detain MDC activists, using harassment and detention without charge as a form of persecution. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will hold its summit meeting on November 9 to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe.
"ZANU-PF's institutions of repression remain intact, and there has been no change in their abusive conduct and attitude," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The regional leaders in SADC need to get tough on the party leader, Robert Mugabe, or ask the United Nations to intervene."
Human Rights Watch researchers conducted more than 80 interviews in August 2008 with victims of political violence, lawyers, academics, serving and retired magistrates, and police officers in six provinces of Zimbabwe. It found that after the first round of general elections on March 29, senior police officers issued specific instructions to police officers across Zimbabwe not to investigate or arrest ZANU-PF supporters and their allies implicated in political violence. Almost all senior police officers in Zimbabwe openly support ZANU-PF, in breach of their duty to remain politically neutral.
Human Rights Watch found that, although there have been at least 163 politically motivated extrajudicial killings since the March elections, the police have only made two arrests, neither of which led to prosecutions. Almost all the victims have been MDC supporters.
The report also highlights the fact that ZANU-PF militia and supporters continue to suffer no penalty for abuses carried out in the aftermath of the recent elections. Members of the ZANU-PF militia who have been accused of killing six people in Chaona on May 5 continue to walk free. ZANU-PF supporters who have been accused of killing an MDC councilor, Gibbs Chironga, and three others in Chiweshe on June 20 have not been investigated. The killing of Joshua Bakacheza, an MDC driver, on June 24 has not resulted in any arrests. The police also refuse to investigate the abduction and beating by ZANU-PF youth of thousands of MDC supporters.
This lack of accountability for mistreatment in Zimbabwe remains entrenched despite the signing of the power-sharing agreement on September 15. Police continue to detain accused persons beyond the 48-hour statutory limit, show contempt for court rulings, and frequently deny detainees access to legal representation or relatives. Several former detainees have reported to Human Rights Watch that police officers frequently beat or mistreat those in custody.
On September 18, police in Masvingo arrested the president of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Takavafira Zhou for organizing a strike to protest poor salaries. He was held without charge in solitary confinement for four days without access to water, a toilet, or blankets, before being released. There are new reports this week of MDC supporters being abducted and tortured.
"SADC has had numerous opportunities to condemn ZANU-PF's abusive behavior and demand change," Gagnon said. "It mistakenly trusted former South African President Thabo Mbeki's quiet diplomacy and his belief that Mugabe would restore the rule of law and respect human rights. SADC must now make sure that ZANU-PF respects both the letter and spirit of sharing power. Only then will we see the fundamental reforms necessary for restoring normality and human rights protection in Zimbabwe."