In January the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) submitted to the Executive Council of the African Union a critical resolution on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe that it had passed in late 2005. In its response, the government of Zimbabwe asked the African Commission to revoke the resolution, arguing that procedures had not been followed. The government’s arguments were entirely procedural, and did not address the serious human rights concerns raised. The government had repeatedly failed to implement the recommendations contained in the 2002 report of the African Commission’s Fact Finding Mission and the 2005 report by the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues in Zimbabwe.
In August the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced new banknotes to replace the old ones, reducing their face value by a factor of 1,000. For example, a Z$20,000 note was replaced by a Z$20 note. People were given 21 days to exchange their old notes before they stopped being legal tender, but a limit of Z$100 million (US$400) was imposed on the amount of cash people could carry. Nationwide roadblocks were established to enforce the programme, known as Project Sunrise. Human rights abuses were reported at roadblocks manned by police officers, Reserve Bank officials and in some cases members of the pro-government youth militia. People were reportedly assaulted and subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment, including being forced to remove clothing during searches. Police at some roadblocks confiscated money, even when the victims had less than the stipulated maximum.
By the end of the year inflation was running at more than 1,000 per cent.
Right to adequate housing
Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (Better Life), a house-building programme launched in 2005 ostensibly to provide housing to victims of mass forced evictions, failed to provide a remedy for the majority of them.
By May, one year after the programme’s launch, only 3,325 houses had been built, compared to 92,460 housing structures destroyed in Operation Murambatsvina. Construction in many areas appeared to have stopped. Many of the houses designated as “built” were unfinished, without access to water or sewage facilities, and uninhabited.
Moreover, the new houses were largely inaccessible to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the forced evictions. They were too expensive for the majority to afford, even if they were offered the chance to purchase them, which frequently they were not. The process for allocating the new – albeit largely incomplete – houses and bare residential plots lacked transparency. Houses and land plots were allocated to people who had not lost their homes during Operation Murambatsvina and at least 20 per cent of the houses built were earmarked for civil servants, police and soldiers.
Despite the government’s repeated claims that Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle was a programme under which houses would be built by government for victims of mass evictions, in reality people were allocated small bare plots of land, without access to adequate water or sanitation, on which they had to build their own homes with no assistance.
The government continued to forcibly evict groups of people, often from the place where they had moved after their homes were demolished during Operation Murambatsvina. These forced evictions were traumatic for victims and resulted in further loss of possessions. At least three small-scale evictions were reported in Harare alone.
In April and May the police threatened to forcibly acquire 200 plots of land at Hatcliffe Extension New Stands settlement just outside Harare to extend a nearby police boarding school. Fifteen families would be affected. After protests by AI and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the authorities reversed the decision.
On 15 June municipal police forcibly evicted a group of approximately 150 internally displaced households who were living in makeshift shacks along the Mukuvisi river in Harare. The group had been living there since the brick cottages they had been renting were destroyed a year before. The police pulled down their structures with crowbars and set them alight. They told the people they had to move, but provided no alternative accommodation.
Obstruction of humanitarian aid
The government continued to hinder and frustrate humanitarian efforts to provide emergency shelter. After repeated rejections of UN temporary shelter solutions during 2005, in March the UN was finally given permission to erect some temporary shelters. By the end of 2006 approximately 2,300 shelters had been erected. This compared with a UN target for the provision of emergency shelter, based on need, of 40,000 households in August 2005, reduced to a target of 23,000 households in 2006.
The right to food
Despite a somewhat better harvest, millions of people continued to experience serious food insecurity. Inflation continued to place basic food items beyond the reach of many poor people. According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), maize prices increased by 25 per cent between September and October. The WFP’s limited emergency feeding programme for vulnerable groups experienced shortages of cereals and pulses, resulting in just 331,000 people being assisted against a planned 800,000 people for October.
Freedom of association and assembly curtailed
The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Miscellaneous Offences Act continued to be used selectively to prevent the political opposition and civil society groups from meeting or engaging in peaceful protest. Hundreds of human rights activists were arrested or detained under these laws during the year.
Freedom of expression
Repressive laws, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act, were used to curtail freedom of expression. In July the government introduced the Interception of Communications Bill in Parliament which if passed into law would further restrict freedom of expression. It would allow the authorities to intercept both telecommunications and mail, and raised fears that the government would use it to spy on the activities of human rights organizations and the political opposition.
The trial of trustees and staff of Voice of the People, an independent radio station that broadcast from outside Zimbabwe but maintained offices in the country, started on 25 September. The state withdrew charges against the individuals and was to charge the Voice of the People Trust under the Broadcasting Services Act for broadcasting without a licence.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders came under sustained attack by the authorities and the police. Repressive legislation continued to be used to obstruct their work, and hundreds were subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture, ill-treatment and harassment.
In the early hours of 18 January, two police officers and a soldier arrived at the Mutare home of prominent human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga, demanding to see him. When they were told that he was not there, they detained his domestic staff. The workers were later released without charge after Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, of which Arnold Tsunga is Executive Director, intervened. On 21 January, police visited his house in the capital, Harare, apparently to arrest him as a Voice of the People trustee. Arnold Tsunga was not there, and police arrested a driver and a caretaker, allegedly for obstructing investigations when they said they did not know where he was. On 26 January, Arnold Tsunga received a credible warning that the Zimbabwe Military Intelligence Corps had been ordered to kill him.
On 11 September, over 100 members of the activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested ahead of a planned peaceful sit-in at Town House in Harare to protest against deteriorating services. Among those arrested and detained were five mothers with babies and a pregnant woman, who reportedly went into labour while in police custody. Many were detained in deplorable conditions for longer than the 48 hours allowed in law, and were held until 14 and 15 September. The women were charged with “participating in a public gathering with the intent to cause public disorder, breach of peace or bigotry.” They were acquitted on 23 October.
On 13 September police arrested Lovemore Matombo, President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Wellington Chibebe, the ZCTU Secretary General, Lucia Matibenga , ZCTU First Vice-President, and 12 other activists from the ZCTU and the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party. They had been attempting to undertake a peaceful protest about deteriorating social and economic conditions in Zimbabwe. All 15 were reportedly tortured in custody at Matapi police station on 13 September. They were transferred to Harare Central Police Station on 14 September and released. Medical reports confirmed that they had injuries consistent with beatings with blunt objects, heavy enough to cause fractures to hands and arms, and severe multiple soft tissue injuries to the backs of the head, shoulders, arms, buttocks and thighs. The doctors also stated that eight of the activists had injuries consistent with the torture method called falanga (beatings on the soles of the feet), which can cause permanent problems with walking. The beatings were so severe that Lucia Matibenga had one of her ear drums perforated as a result.
Scores of ZCTU members were also arrested and detained in Harare, Beitbridge, Bulawayo, Mutare and other urban centres. On the eve of the protests, on 12 September, in an apparent pre-emptive action, police had also reportedly arrested a number of ZCTU leaders at their homes and offices in Rusape, Gweru, Chinhoyi and Kariba.
Domestic Violence Bill
The Domestic Violence Bill was passed by the House of Assembly (lower chamber of Zimbabwe’s Parliament) in November and awaited transmission to the Senate. If the bill became law it would outlaw harmful cultural practices including pledging of women or girls for the purposes of appeasing spirits, female genital mutilation, forced wife inheritance, and forced virginity testing. A council mandated to deal with domestic violence issues would be established and it would be mandatory for all police stations to establish a section to deal with cases of domestic violence.
Human rights commission
In September the government embarked on a consultation process for the establishment of a human rights commission. The process was facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme. The government’s proposal to establish a human rights commission was widely seen as yet another move by the government to divert attention from the serious human rights crisis unfolding in the country.
AI country reports/visits
• Zimbabwe: No justice for the victims of forced evictions (AI Index: AFR 46/005/2006)
• Zimbabwe: Quantifying destruction – satellite images of forced evictions (AI Index: AFR 46/014/2006)
• Zimbabwe: Shattered lives – the case of Porta Farm (AI Index: AFR 46/004/2006)
AI delegates visited Zimbabwe in April/May.