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Violence In Zimbabwe: "Bullets For Each Of You"

"Bullets For Each Of You" - State-Sponsored Violence Since Zimbabwe's March 29 Elections

I. Summary

The campaign of violence and repression in Zimbabwe, aimed at destroying opposition and ensuring that Robert Mugabe is returned as president in runoff elections on June 27, 2008 is claiming thousands of victims as the government at national and local levels actively, systematically and methodically targets Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists and perceived MDC supporters.

The violence has been particularly concentrated in former rural strongholds of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)--areas that to the party's shock voted for the MDC in the parliamentary and first-round presidential elections. Punishing 'sell-outs,' former ZANU-PF supporters who voted for the MDC, is a clear objective. Within government-supporting circles, the operation has been dubbed 'Operation Makavhoterapapi?' (Operation Where Did You Put Your Vote?).

Around the country, the ruling party and its allies are blocking access to villages targeted by ZANU-PF violence, preventing people from fleeing, including those in need of medical treatment. Party allies have warned hospitals not to treat victims of political violence or face retaliation. Meanwhile, measures are being put in place to restrict both local and international electoral monitoring of the runoff poll.

If current conditions are maintained, there is no possibility of a credible, free and fair poll. Time has nearly run out for Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to make the necessary political interventions to end the violence and ensure a free and fair vote.

This report, based on investigations in Zimbabwe, describes the scale of the abuses and identifies those responsible--officials from ZANU-PF, often working through proxy forces of so-called war veterans and youth militia, backed by members of the armed forces and police. Local institutions have identified at least 2,000 beatings and cases of torture. At least 36 people have been killed, including, in May, abducted MDC activists. Given the movement restrictions in place and the limit to information flow that results, Human Rights Watch believes that the number of people attacked far exceeds these figures.

ZANU-PF officials and 'war veterans' are beating, torturing and mutilating suspected MDC activists and supporters in hundreds of base camps, many of them army bases, established across the provinces as local operations centers. Abusive 're-education' meetings are being held to compel MDC supporters into voting for Mugabe. In one of these meetings, on May 5 in Chiweshe, ZANU-PF officials and 'war veterans' beat six men to death and tortured another 70 men and women, including a 76-year-old woman publicly thrashed in front of assembled villagers.

ZANU-PF and its allies are engaged in a campaign of looting and destruction, slaughtering animals, stealing food and property, and burning down homesteads. More than 3,000 people are known to have fled the violence and are now internally displaced in cities and towns throughout the country with inadequate access to food and water. An unknown number have fled across the borders to Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.

The violence is being orchestrated by the Joint Operations Command, which is headed by senior ZANU-PF officials and includes the heads of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, police, prison services, and the Central Intelligence Organization. In some areas local police are attempting to enforce the rule of law, but they are being undermined by their own superior officers.

Human Rights Watch investigations indicate that the army is playing a major role in supporting the violence. It has provided known 'war veterans' and ZANU-PF supporters with guns, transportation and bases from which serious human rights violations are carried out.

The government is allowing those perpetrating violence to do so with impunity. Instead of taking action to restore normality and conditions conducive to free and fair elections, it is further clamping down on civil society. Since the parliamentary and inconclusive presidential polls on March 29, 2008 police have arrested human rights lawyers, journalists, civil society activists and trade unionists on politically motivated charges.

In an apparent bid to subvert the runoff electoral process and instill fear in local election officials and observers, police have arrested more than 100 presiding officers and election officials on politically motivated charges of electoral fraud. ZANU-PF supporters have attacked hundreds of observers from the independent election organization, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, and forced many to flee their homes.

The government has attempted to portray reports of the violence as exaggerated--and then mainly perpetrated by the MDC. Human Rights Watch investigations show that while there have been some attacks by MDC supporters on ZANU-PF supporters, the number of such incidents is far outweighed by those perpetrated by ZANU-PF and its allies.

Government complicity in the violence is reflected in its failure to acknowledge the extent of the violence and the widespread involvement of senior army officers, police officials and groups backed by the state security forces. By allowing perpetrators of abuses with high rank to act with impunity, President Mugabe and the government of Zimbabwe bear full responsibility for these serious crimes.

There is a long history of impunity for serious human rights violations perpetrated by ZANU-PF and its allies when faced by political opposition, stretching back to the 1980s and atrocities by government military forces in Matabeleland. Violence around elections intensified following the emergence of the MDC as a political contender in 1999. What is happening now, however, eclipses the violence in any previous election.

For Zimbabwe's future stability, it is imperative that the country breaks with its history of impunity. The human rights violations documented in this report constitute grave abuses for which those responsible must be held accountable. The government must impartially investigate and fairly prosecute those who have organized and committed politically motivated violence and related crimes since the March 29 elections. Any future government--whether it emerges from the presidential runoff or from negotiations between the two main parties--should not grant amnesty to perpetrators of serious abuses.

The AU and SADC, supported by the United Nations (UN), have only days in which to make an impact on reducing violence and ensuring a free and fair vote. This is an opportunity for clear political leadership in support of human rights and the future stability of Zimbabwe, which, as recent xenophobic violence in South Africa has demonstrated, is increasingly impacting the domestic situation of its neighbors. Now is the time for failed mediation strategies to be abandoned, and a clear message given to the authorities that they face becoming regional pariahs should no action be taken.

FULL REPORT (PDF format - 261.8 Kbytes)

ENDS

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