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UN Expert ‘Shocked’ by Abuses in Zimbabwe

Visit Comes Amid Crackdown on Critics, Activists

Armed riot police block the road as doctors attempt to march in Harare, Zimbabwe, September 18, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

A United Nations expert outlined a slew of “extremely disturbing” abuses by Zimbabwe’s security forces at the conclusion of a fact-finding mission to the country.

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, issued a statement today describing “reports of excessive, disproportionate and lethal use of force against protestors, through the use of tear gas, batons and live ammunition.” Voule wrote in his preliminary findings that he lamented “the loss of lives due to excessive use of force against protestors” and urged the government to thoroughly investigate the incidents and prosecute those responsible.

Human Rights Watch had previously documented Zimbabwe security forces’ use of excessive lethal force to crush nationwide protests in mid-January 2019. During the protests, the security forces fired live ammunition, killing 17 people, and raped at least 17 women.

Voule said he was shocked by the testimonies of victims who alleged they had been raped and sexually assaulted by military and police during protests. He urged Zimbabwe authorities, in line with section 210 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution, to establish an effective and independent mechanism for investigating complaints from members of the public of misconduct by security services and to remedy any harm done.

Voule’s visit came just days after the Zimbabwe police defied a court order and prevented outspoken leader of the doctors union, Peter Magombeyi, from traveling to South Africa to seek urgent medical care. Magombeyi, a government employee, had been abducted by three unidentified men on September 14 and released after four days. Prior to his abduction, Magombeyi had organized a series of protests to demand better salaries for government doctors.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s address to the UN General Assembly in New York this week did not acknowledge Zimbabwe’s serious human rights problems. The Zimbabwe authorities should take heed of the UN expert’s observation that, “the repression of protestors, the attempt to ban protests, the excessive use of force and the restrictive application of legislation regulating the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and association gravely overshadow efforts to democratically transform Zimbabwe.”

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