The human rights situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated sharply in 2008 with an unprecedented wave of state-sponsored human rights violations, perpetrated mainly by security forces, war veterans and supporters of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF) after elections in March. At least 180 people died as a result; thousands were injured while tens of thousands were displaced in rural areas and had to seek refuge in urban centres. Many people were left in need of emergency shelter, food aid and medical treatment after they were targeted ahead of the run-off presidential election in June.
The economy continued to decline making it very hard for a large part of the population to access food, healthcare and education. According to the UN, more than five million people were in need of food aid by the end of 2008. Victims of the 2005 mass forced evictions continued to live in deplorable conditions.
On 29 March the country held presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in an environment that was relatively peaceful compared to previous elections. The elections followed a year-long dialogue between ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), facilitated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The March elections saw ZANU-PF losing its majority in parliament for the first time since independence in 1980.
In the first round of the presidential election, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC obtained 47.8 per cent of the vote, Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF obtained 43.2 per cent, while two independent candidates obtained less than 10 per cent combined. Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the second round of the election on 22 June, citing violence against his supporters. However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission ruled that the election should go ahead on 27 June. The June election was widely condemned by independent local and regional election observers.
Efforts by SADC to find a political settlement between ZANU-PF and the two formations of the MDC resulted in a political agreement signed in September. However, negotiations to set up a unity government stalled over allocation of key government ministries including the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The economy continued to decline, making it increasingly difficult for most households to access food, healthcare and education. The humanitarian situation was compounded by a government directive in June to suspend all field operations of NGOs. In addition, food reserves were plundered to feed gangs of ZANU-PF supporters who established camps throughout the country to implement President Mugabe’s violent election campaign in the run-up to the 27 June election.
"The government deliberately took actions to prevent suspected supporters of opposition parties from buying cheap maize..."
Agriculture faced extreme uncertainty as the country experienced serious shortages of seed and fertilizer as the farming season approached. Health workers and teachers went on intermittent strikes over poor working conditions and low wages. There was a nationwide outbreak of cholera, due to lack of water treatment and uncollected waste, which resulted in more than 800 recorded deaths and 16,000 reported cases by the end of the year.
In December Zimbabwe voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
The March elections were followed by a wave of human rights violations that resulted in at least 180 deaths, and at least 9,000 people injured from torture, beatings and other violations perpetrated mainly by security forces, war veterans and ZANU-PF supporters. There were also reports of inter-party clashes and retaliatory attacks by some supporters of the MDC. About 28,000 people were displaced from their homes in rural areas and went to urban areas to seek refuge and medical care.
The police were unable or unwilling to act against those responsible for instigating and committing human rights violations against people suspected of voting for the MDC in the 29 March elections. Repeated failure by the authorities to bring to justice people with links to ZANU-PF or members of the security forces allowed the violations to escalate.
Extrajudicial executions and unlawful killings
Dozens of MDC activists and supporters were killed after being abducted by state security agents, war veterans and other ZANU-PF supporters. Others died from injuries following beatings by security forces and ZANU-PF supporters.
- Tonderai Ndira, an MDC activist, was abducted from his home in Mabvuku, Harare, on 14 May. About nine armed men in plain clothes, believed to be state security agents, forced him into a white Toyota truck and drove away. His decomposed body was reportedly found in Goromonzi a week later.
- Joshua Bakacheza, an MDC driver from Mashonaland West province, and Tendai Chidziwo, an MDC activist, were abducted in Harare on 25 June by armed men in three unmarked trucks. Joshua Bakacheza and Tendai Chidziwo had been assisting the wife of Tonderai Ndira to move to another suburb. They were taken to a farm near Beatrice where they were tortured before being shot. Joshua Bakacheza’s body was discovered on 5 July. Tendai Chidziwo, who was shot in the head, survived the shooting and was in a coma for about a week.
- The body of Beta Chokururama, an MDC activist, was discovered in Goromonzi on 13 May. He had been abducted by people suspected to be state security agents earlier in May when he was on his way to Murewa. In April, he had been attacked by ZANU-PF supporters and both his legs were fractured.
Prominent human rights defenders, political activists and their family members were abducted by groups of armed men believed to be working on behalf of or with the acquiescence of the Zimbabwean authorities. The abductions were conducted in broad daylight with total impunity.
Most of the missing people were found at various police stations in Harare on or around 23 December 2008 after they were reportedly handed over to the police by the men who abducted them, who were members of the security forces. The abducted men and women were then held in police detention. None of the abductors were arrested by the police.
Some of those abducted were tortured by their captors who tried to force them to implicate themselves or other activists in recruiting people for military training in Botswana or in bombing police stations and a railway line. All the detainees denied the charges.
By end of year all the detainees were still in detention and the authorities had failed to comply with court orders to release them. Police also failed to comply with orders to allow the detainees to seek medical treatment. Amnesty International considered all the detainees to be potential prisoners of conscience.
- Fourteen members of the MDC and a two-year-old baby went missing in late October and early November after reportedly being arrested by police in Mashonaland West province and Chitungwiza town, near Harare. Despite earlier police denials the detainees were found detained at various police stations in Harare on or around 23 December. They were taken to court on 24 December and accused of recruiting people for military training in Botswana.
- On 3 December, Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a national human rights organization, was forcibly taken from her home in Norton, Harare. She was seized by about 12 men in plain clothes – some armed with handguns – who identified themselves as members of the Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Police denied that they had arrested Jestina Mukoko and her whereabouts remained unknown until 23 December when she was found in police custody. She was taken to court on 24 December, accused of recruiting people for military training in Botswana, a charge she denied. At the end of the year, Jestina Mukoko remained in custody. Amnesty International considered Jestina Mukoko to be a prisoner of conscience.
- Broderick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo, ZPP staff members, were seized at the organization’s offices in Harare on 8 December. They were handed to police by their abductors on or around 23 December. At the end of the year, both remained in custody as prisoners of conscience.
- On 5 December, at around midnight, Zacharia Nkomo, the brother of Harrison Nkomo – another leading human rights lawyer who was working on Jestina Mukoko’s case – was abducted by four unidentified men in civilian clothes from his home in Rujeko, Masvingo. The men responsible for the abduction were travelling in two green-and-silver Toyota trucks. He was found in police custody around 23 December.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment of opposition supporters were widespread following the 29 March elections in Mashonaland, Midlands, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces. In most districts, war veterans, soldiers and local ZANU-PF leaders established makeshift torture camps. The camps were set up in tents, clearings within a community, classrooms or at the homes of ZANU-PF officials or displaced MDC activists.
Local people were forced to attend all-night meetings at these camps. They were made to watch their neighbours being beaten and warned that if they did not vote for ZANU-PF on 27 June they would face a similar fate. MDC supporters were forced to denounce the party and surrender all their party materials, including t-shirts and membership cards. Dozens of MDC supporters died after beatings at these camps. Local youths were forced to attend the camp meetings and participate in beatings.
- Kingswell Muteta, a police officer, was fatally beaten by ZANU-PF supporters in Mudzi district on 17 July after visiting the family of his brother-in-law, a local MDC chairperson reportedly beaten to death by ZANU-PF supporters. Witnesses said that Kingswell Muteta confronted a group of ZANU-PF youths who were under the instruction of a senior police officer. The ZANU-PF youths took Kingswell Muteta to a camp near Kotwa and accused him of having gone to an “enemy’s” home. He was beaten by about 20 youths. He sustained mainly soft tissue injuries on his buttocks, trunk and lower limbs. He was taken to hospital on 18 July and died of his injuries on 25 July.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Politically motivated violations of economic, social and cultural rights persisted throughout 2008 with violations of the right to food reported across the country. The government deliberately took actions to prevent suspected supporters of opposition parties from buying cheap maize sold by the state-controlled Grain Marketing Board. It also effectively blocked access to much needed food aid ahead of the 27 June presidential election run-off.
On 4 June, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare wrote to every NGO and Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) announcing a suspension of all field operations by humanitarian organizations. The Minister alleged that the organizations were in breach of their terms and conditions of registration, but gave no further details. The suspension worsened food insecurity in the country at a time when two million people were in dire need of food aid. The ban also severely disrupted the provision of health services such as anti-retrovirals for AIDS patients, tuberculosis treatment and medication and care for other chronic conditions. In June, UNICEF reported that the net effect of the suspension was that as many as 500,000 children were left with no access to health care, HIV/AIDS support, education assistance and food. Many of these children were orphans. The ban was lifted at the end of August.
Internally displaced people
The wave of state-sponsored violence after the March elections left at least 28,000 people displaced. Victims of violence moved to urban areas to seek refuge and medical care. Most had their homes destroyed and food stocks plundered or destroyed as a punishment for supporting opposition parties. The internally displaced were in dire need of emergency shelter, food and medical care. They also needed seed and fertilizer in order to produce food in the coming year.
- On the morning of 25 April, police in Harare raided the offices of the MDC and arrested hundreds of internally displaced people, including children, who were sheltering there. About 215 of those arrested were taken to Harare Central police station. Among them were 35 children, the oldest of whom was 11. They were released after the MDC obtained an order from the High Court for their release on 28 April.
Freedom of expression
The authorities continued to restrict freedom expression. Several foreign and local media workers were arrested in the context of the elections.
- On 8 May police in Harare arrested Davison Maruziva, editor of the privately owned weekly newspaper The Standard, over its publication of an opinion piece by Arthur Mutambara, leader of one of the MDC formations. He was charged with “publishing false statements prejudicial to the state and contempt of court”. On 20 April, The Standard had published an article criticizing a High Court judgment dismissing an application by the MDC to compel the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the delayed results of the 29 March presidential elections. Arthur Mutambara was arrested again over this article on 1 June.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to face unlawful restrictions in carrying out their work.
- On 25 April, police officers raided the Harare offices of the non-governmental Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), and took away files and documents. The home of Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, the ZESN national director, was also raided. On 28 April Rindai Chipfunde-Vava and the organization’s chairperson, Noel Kututwa, were interrogated by police from the Law and Order section. From 28 to 30 April, Noel Kututwa and Rindai Chipfunde-Vava were ordered to report to Harare Central police station. Police also told ZESN to provide a list of the 11,000 local observers it had deployed during the 29 March election, names of board members, and sources of funding, including bank accounts.
- Lovemore Matombo, President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and Wellington Chibebe, Secretary General of the ZCTU, were arrested on 8 May on charges of “communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state” following speeches made during May Day celebrations in Harare. On 12 May they appeared before a magistrate and were denied bail and initially remanded in custody until 23 May at Harare Central Remand Prison. However, after appealing they were granted bail by a High Court Judge on 19 May.
- On 28 May, police in Harare arrested 14 members of the activist organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) during a peaceful march to the Zambian embassy to hand in a petition. The petition called on Zambia, which was then chair of SADC, to help bring an end to the state-sponsored violence. Leaders of the organization Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were detained for 37 days at Chikurubi Female Prison, whilst the other 12 were detained for 17 days.
- Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were again arrested in Bulawayo on 16 October after participating in a demonstration highlighting the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans. Police beat protesters while breaking up the peaceful protest. The two women were arrested together with seven other WOZA activists who were released on the same day. However, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were denied bail and spent three weeks in Mlondolozi prison until they were granted bail by the High Court and released on 6 November.
- In Harare on 27 October, 42 women taking part in a demonstration organized by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) were arrested by police. Police used tear gas and baton sticks to break up the peaceful protest. Among those arrested was the National Coordinator of WCoZ, Netsai Mushonga. The women were released after being made to pay admission of guilt fines. The march was organized to draw attention to hunger in Zimbabwe and the repeated failure of regional leaders to find a solution.
- On 11 November, 29 members of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) were arrested by police in Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare and Mutare after taking part in a protest over the worsening humanitarian situation and the need for a transitional government and a new constitution. On the same day the NCA’s chairman, Dr Lovemore Madhuku, was detained for four hours at Harare Central police station. In Mutare, Stewart Muzambi, Never Mujokochi, Louis Dzinokuzara, Trust Zamba, Cynthia Chizaza, Catherine Chanza and three others were detained at Mutare Central police station and reportedly assaulted while in police custody. Police also used excessive force to break up the demonstrations. One of the eight people detained at Harare Central police station was denied access to medical treatment for a cut on his scalp. Some of the detainees were released after paying admission of guilt fines while those detained in Gweru were charged under the Public Order and Security Act.
Amnesty International visitsAmnesty International delegates visited Zimbabwe in March and July/August. A mission planned for December was restricted to South Africa after the high-profile abductions of human rights defenders by people believed to be working on behalf of or with the acquiescence of the Zimbabwean authorities.
Amnesty International reportsZimbabwe: A trail of violence after the ballot (3 June 2008)
Zimbabwe: Time for accountability (31 October 2008)