I. Summary

Our hands are tied. We cannot do anything where ZANU-PF is involved. However, if your case was not political we could have helped you—all political violence matters are off limits for the police.

—A Police officer in Chegutu, Mashonaland West province, declining to investigate a political violence complaint, June 2008.

Over the last decade, Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has progressively and systematically compromised the independence and impartiality of Zimbabwe’s judiciary and public prosecutors, and instilled one-sided partisanship into the police. Since 2000 it has purged the judiciary, packed the courts with ZANU-PF supporters and handed out “gifts” of land and goods to ensure the judges’ loyalty. It has provided instructions to prosecutors to keep opposition members in jail for as long as possible. It has transformed Zimbabwe’s police force into an openly partisan and unaccountable arm of ZANU-PF.

The power-sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), signed on September 15, 2008, provided an opportunity to begin fundamental changes within the judiciary and police. However, in failing to recognize the collapse of respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, the agreement sidesteps the urgent need for reforms. As this report demonstrates, ZANU-PF lacks the necessary commitment to end its improper and unlawful involvement in the justice system, let alone to be entrusted with instituting the necessary reforms.

Police partisanship has contributed heavily to Zimbabwe’s disastrous human rights situation. Serving police officers told Human Rights Watch that between April and July 2008, police across Zimbabwe were issued with specific instructions not to investigate or arrest ZANU-PF supporters and their allies implicated in political violence. Human Rights Watch also found that of at least 163 politically motivated extrajudicial killings—almost entirely of MDC supporters—since the March 29, 2008 general elections, police have only made two arrests, neither of which led to prosecutions.

Members of the ZANU-PF militia who killed six people in Chaona on May 5 continue to walk free. The ZANU-PF supporters who killed MDC councilor Gibbs Chironga and three others in Chiweshe on June 20 have not been investigated. The murder of Joshua Bakacheza, an MDC driver, on June 24 has not resulted in any arrests. The police refuse to investigate the abduction and beating by ZANU-PF youth of Kadombo Chitokwa and thousands of others.

Police have arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of MDC leaders and activists. MDC leaders subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention include Tendai Biti—arrested at the airport on June 12—Ian Kay and Eric Matinenga. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of police officers openly engaging in partisan politics in contravention of the Police Act. In several provinces where armed ZANU-PF members have unlawfully taken policing duties upon themselves—carrying out arrests, investigations and meting out punishment—government authorities have refused to intervene.

The power-sharing agreement has not ended the violence. Human Rights Watch found that police continue to routinely and arbitrarily arrest and detain opposition activists, using harassment and detention without charge as a form of persecution. On October 16 police in Bulawayo assaulted, arrested and detained several members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). All the women were later released without charge except for their two leaders—Jenni Williams and Magondonga Mahlangu—who have been denied bail and who at this writing remain in jail. Police detain accused persons beyond the 48-hour statutory limit, show contempt for court rulings and frequently deny detainees access to legal representation or relatives. On September 18 police arrested the president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Takavafira Zhou. He was held without charge in solitary confinement for four days without access to water, a toilet or blankets, before being released on September 22. Several former detainees have reported that police officers frequently beat or otherwise mistreat those in custody.

This report finds that legal accountability and the rule of law in Zimbabwe have been seriously eroded under the ZANU-PF government through its interference in the criminal justice system. It shows that victims of human rights abuses—mainly MDC supporters—continue to be denied their right to justice and an effective remedy. At the same time, perpetrators of human rights abuses enjoy de facto immunity from prosecution by virtue of their association with ZANU-PF.

At the time of writing, over a month after the power-sharing agreement was signed, there has been no substantive movement towards implementation nor towards forming a new government. The two main parties have sharp differences over the allocation of new cabinet positions. On October 11 ZANU-PF, without the agreement of the MDC and contrary to the power-sharing agreement, published a list of new cabinet positions. President Robert Mugabe allocated all senior ministries—including Home Affairs and Justice, as well as Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance—to ZANU-PF members. The ZANU-PF list was rejected by the MDC, which released its own alternative list. Human Rights Watch is concerned that any settlement of the current political crisis must address the need for reforms in the criminal justice system and the pervasive climate of impunity, and that this cannot be achieved so long as ZANU-PF controls the Home Affairs and Justice Ministries.

As the people of Zimbabwe confront an ever more rapidly deteriorating economic situation, with more than five million facing severe food shortages and inflation, at the time of writing, running at 2.79 quintillion,1 expressing serious concern over the erosion of key justice institutions might seem a step away from the lives and concerns of the public at large. However, the fact is that despite the rearguard ethical action of some of those within them, these institutions have been transformed by ZANU-PF into critical agents of repression. Their reform is fundamental to the restoration of normality and respect for human rights, not just in Zimbabwean political affairs, but also in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Human Rights Watch calls upon any new government in Zimbabwe to undertake an independently managed program of reform of the judiciary and police with clear timelines. Priorities should include independent and impartial investigations into past human rights abuses and the problem of impunity, a review of police organizational structure and practices, and revisions of criminal justice legislation to ensure compliance with international legal standards. Human Rights Watch urges donor states and institutions to support genuine reform efforts, but also to maintain existing sanctions until reforms are implemented.

1 “New Hyperinflation Index (HHIZ) Puts Zimbabwe Inflation at 2.79 Quintillion Percent,” The CATO Institute, October 31, 2008, (accessed November 5, 2008).