Cablegate: Embassy Harare

DE RUEHSB #0879/01 3091134
R 051134Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Six months following the release of the film
documentary "Hellhole," which graphically depicted the deplorable
Zimbabwe Prison System (ZPS), the Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) has
responded by permitting more access to prisons from non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) including the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC). However, some of these NGOs have been forced to
enter into a devil's bargain with the government, agreeing not to
publicize the failures and abuses of the ZPS. While this "bargain"
has resulted in a short-term improvement of some prisoner
conditions, the price for this limited improvement has been silence
on the appalling conditions that remain.

2. (SBU) Malnutrition, an almost complete collapse of the prison
medical system, and the failure to protect the most vulnerable
prisoners within the ZPS are just a few of the conditions cited by
our interlocutors. While there has been a marked decline in the
death rate in the prisons, there is continuing concern over an
unchecked HIV epidemic compounded by the ZPS' failure to provide
adequate anti-retroviral therapy for prisoners. Equally troubling,
because the ZPS has failed to provide adequate and correct types of
antibiotics, there has been a notable increase in microbial
resistance amongst prisoners. For far too many Zimbabweans,
incarceration in prison has resulted in a death sentence. END


3. (SBU) Zimbabwe's prisons have long been renowned for their
inhumane conditions, overcrowding, and growing health problems. In
April 2009, an undercover film crew went into the prisons and
produced a shocking documentary, "Hellhole," that showed prisoners
experiencing serious malnutrition and living in unsanitary
conditions that directly contributed to cholera outbreaks in
prisons. Cholera has resulted in untold numbers of deaths. After
the documentary was released, and with the encouragement of the
Deputy Minister of Justice, Jessie Majome (MDC-T), the government
has allowed certain NGOs increased access to prisons to relieve
overcrowding, and to improve nutrition, sanitation, and living

4. (SBU) However, some elements of the GOZ continue to discourage
investigation and discussion of the on-going human rights crisis in
Zimbabwe, as evidenced by their continued refusal to permit
inspection of Zimbabwe prisons by diplomatic missions. Embassy
consular and political officers have requested permission to visit
Zimbabwean prisons in the last year. Prison authorities have never
responded to these requests. The Embassy Consular Section was
permitted to visit a detained American citizen only after he had
been transferred to a deportation holding cell. This particular
Qbeen transferred to a deportation holding cell. This particular
American citizen had languished two months in a remand prison in
Mutare before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided notification.
Other diplomatic missions have experienced similar problems
accessing their nationals in prison. Recently, an Australian
diplomat traveled to Bulawayo to visit an incarcerated Australian
citizen and spent several hours arguing with prison officials, who
refused to grant her access. Eventually the officials allowed her
in, but only after a protracted argument.

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5. (SBU) To better understand current conditions in prisons, we
spoke with three organizations who have been working with prisons
throughout the year, the ICRC, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
(ZLHR), and the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and
Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO). All have been granted
varying levels of access, with ICRC enjoying the closest
relationship with the government. ZLHR has played an important role
in hosting workshops for prison officials and helping inmates
navigate the legal system in order to bring their cases to trial.
ZACRO, which works with local churches, helps provide food and
brings pastors into prisons to work with prisoners and prison

Cloaked In Secrecy

6. (SBU) In order to ensure continued access by the ZPS, the ICRC
entered into a non-disclosure agreement with the GOZ in which it
agreed not to release information critical of the GOZ's handling of
the prison crisis, in exchange for greater prison access. In a
recent off-the-record conversation with Emboffs, the ICRC declined
to answer many specific questions citing their agreement with the
ZPS, despite our assurances that we would not make the information
public. While they did provide information about their therapeutic
feeding and guard uniform programs, they refused to comment on
health conditions, medical supplies, or cases of prisoner abuse.
The ICRC's security officer, who attended the meeting with two other
ICRC staff members, flatly refused to answer specific questions
about the lack of doctors within the prisons and the incarceration
of juveniles. When confronted with statistics provided by the ZACRO
and ZLHR, the ICRC stated that these NGOs had not been in the
prisons every week and therefore could not provide up-to-date

7. (SBU) ZACRO and ZHLR, which have not signed non-disclosure
agreements, have only limited access to prisons. Both have been
candid about the continuing humanitarian crisis with the ZPS. They
cited severe, ongoing issues with malnutrition, extended periods of
remand (detention before trial), non-existent medical care, and
archaic rules that govern prisoner clothing. Both ZACRO and ZHLR
continue to press for increased humanitarian access by all relief
organizations in order to address the crisis.

Overcrowded, Under-funded, and Forgotten

8. (SBU) Both human rights watchers and the GOZ estimate the
current ZPS population at 11,000 in 72 major incarceration
facilities across the country. This contrasts sharply with the
estimated 22,000-24,000 prisoners during the height of the Zimbabwe
prison crisis in 2008. Through release and death, the prison
Qprison crisis in 2008. Through release and death, the prison
population has been cut in half in the last year. In September
2009, for example, ZPS released 2,513 prisoners from various
facilities across Zimbabwe in order to reduce overcrowding.
However, even with a 50 percent decrease in the population, severe
and chronic problems remain, creating what many human rights
observers call one of the most deplorable prison systems in the

9. (SBU) Among the glaring shortcomings of the Zimbabwe judicial
system is the issue of protracted pre-trial remand. Pre-trial

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detention is referred to as remand in Zimbabwe, and pre-trial
detainees are held in remand prisons. The majority of the prisoners
interviewed by ZLHR have spent at least one year in a remand prison
while some have spent three to five years on remand before ever
having a pre-trial hearing. The two major causes are the failure of
the criminal justice system to dismiss cases when witnesses do not
appear, and lack of available vehicles to transport prisoners. Lack
of transport has resulted in some prisoners not appearing in court
for more than a year. In one case, a prisoner spent 11 years in
remand before being released, more than the maximum sentence
possible for his crime. ZLHR admits that some of these long remand
periods are also caused by prisoners whose ignorance of the criminal
justice system leads them to believe that it is better to languish
in a remand prison than to be convicted and incarcerated in a
regular prison.

10. (SBU) Recently, however, some prisoners have benefited from
proactive judges. Since October 2009, approximately 400 prisoners
have been released from Khami Remand Prison in Bulawayo on
compassionate/medical grounds after spending long periods in remand.
Masvingo Remand Prison has also granted bail to several inmates
accused of lesser offenses to reduce the number of inmates spending
long periods in remand. ZLHR, ZACRO, and ICRC continue to lobby the
government to release prisoners who have committed only misdemeanors
and whose incarceration puts pressure on the already over-crowded
prison system.

Malnourishment Continues, but to What Extent?

11. (SBU) While food shortages have become less severe since the
ICRC was granted access in June 2009, nutrition remains a problem.
Shortly after gaining access to prisons, the ICRC began therapeutic
feeding programs in 14 of the 70 facilities to help prisoners with
severe nutritional deficiencies. The ICRC reports that currently
only 100 prisoners are receiving treatment under the program and
that the rest of the prison population does not meet the medical
definition for severe malnutrition.

12. (SBU) While the ICRC, ZLHR, and ZACRO agree that the majority
of prisoners in Zimbabwe are receiving only one to two meals a day,
they disagree as to whether the prisoners are suffering from
nutritional deficiencies. During a prison tour conducted by ZLHR
from April 14-17, ZLHR noted that the majority of prisons still had
no meat, vegetables, or oil to supplement prisoners' daily ration of
sadza (the local staple starch made from maize meal), and that
nutritional deficiency was a critical prison issue. Also, ZACRO and
ZLHR still report cases of pellagra, a serious illness caused by
QZLHR still report cases of pellagra, a serious illness caused by
protein deficiency, which causes severe diarrhea, dermatitis, and
dementia. People who subsist solely on maize are highly susceptible
to developing pellagra, which if left untreated, can lead to death.
However, the ICRC categorically denies that nutrition deficits are a
serious problem, contending that because ZACRO and ZLHR are not
given full and unrestricted access, they are ignorant of the current
situation and forced to rely on outdated information.

13. (SBU) In addition to insufficient quantity and variety of food,
another challenge is the lack of resources to prepare and distribute
food to the prisoners. According to ZACRO and ZLHR, kitchen
utensils, such as plates, pots, and cups are in short supply. At
Mutare Remand Prison there is only one pot to cook both sadza and
vegetables. Often inmates must wait for other prisoners to finish
eating so they can use the same plate, which is not washed between

HARARE 00000879 004 OF 006


Archaic, Cruel Rules Leave Prisoners Cold

14. (SBU) ICRC, ZLHR, and ZACRO all agree that the majority of
inmates do not have adequate clothing. The ICRC is in the process
of providing uniforms to every prisoner (approximately 11,000
uniforms) and states that they have distributed around 7,500
uniforms so far. ZLHR contends that the number of uniforms that
have actually reached the prison population is substantially lower.
The ICRC also reports that they are providing uniforms to guards,
which the ZPS has been unable to provide for several years.

15. (SBU) Another issue facing the ZPS is a set of archaic rules
that adds to prisoner mistreatment and misery. Numerous observers
have noted that one of the most onerous is that prisoners are only
allowed to wear one layer of clothing at any given time while being
held in a remand prison, which effectively restricts female
prisoners from wearing bras. It also means that prisoners must
choose between wearing a shirt or a sweater during winter.
Prisoners are also generally not permitted to wear shoes. This is
not a safety measure since even prisoners who have Velcro closures
are not allowed to keep their shoes in prison. Interestingly, the
ICRC states that all the prisoners they have met with did have shoes
and that they are not aware of any ZPS rules that forbid prisoners
to have shoes. However, the consular section and other NGOs confirm
that the prisoners they have visited have not been permitted to keep
their shoes. A ZLHR lawyer reports that during his 10-day
incarceration in June 2009, he picked up three different types of
bacterial infections from walking barefoot on excrement-covered

--------------------------------------------- -----
The Most Vulnerable: Juveniles, Women and Children
--------------------------------------------- -----

16. (SBU) Juveniles are particularly vulnerable to deplorable
prison conditions, as they are routinely incarcerated with adults.
ZLHR reports many instances of juvenile complaints of physical and
sexual abuse, although the ICRC reports no such complaints.
Compounding the problem of shared quarters with adult offenders, is
the fact that juveniles must have a guardian present before they can
be brought to trial. Because the police are not required to notify
families of a juvenile's arrest, juvenile offenders often are unable
to find a guardian to represent them in court proceedings. As a
result, bail hearings and trial proceedings are often delayed until
a guardian comes forward or a lawyer is appointed on a minor's
behalf. Because of this, juvenile offenders routinely spend more
time in remand than adult offenders. In 2008, according to ZLHR,
Qtime in remand than adult offenders. In 2008, according to ZLHR,
approximately 200 juveniles were incarcerated in adult jails.

17. (SBU) According to ZLHR, female prisoners have generally fared
better than males in the ZPS. First, they appear to have suffered
appreciably less from malnutrition, generally receiving more food
from their families than male prisoners. Prison officials also
appear to have prioritized food distribution to women. On another
positive note, there have been no reports of rape or physical abuse
from female prisoners, which ZLHR routinely hears from males.

18. (SBU) ZLHR credits better treatment of female prisoners to
gender differences and female guards who are more diligent about

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protecting female prisoners. However while the safety and food
security has been better for women, they have conversely endured
more medical hardship. For example the ZPS currently provides no
sanitary supplies for women, which has resulted in numerous fungal
infections, as female inmates are forced to reuse torn pieces of
dirty blankets during their menses. Additionally, pregnant and
nursing mothers are not provided additional care or food rations.
Female offenders also receive disproportionately longer sentences
than male offenders for the same crime. The ZLHR estimates that
women will spend, on average, two to three years longer in prison
than their male counterparts for the same crime.

19. Children also face unique difficulties. For example, the ZPS
does not have a separate budget to provide food or medical care for
children living with their mothers in prison. Because of this,
there are no food allocations directly provided to these children
and they are instead required to share their mothers' food
allocation. ZLHR claims that these children are suffering from
malnutrition and related illnesses, particularly those whose mothers
are HIV positive and are unable to breast feed. ICRC states that
there are no children in the therapeutic feeding programs and that
prisons are adequately supplying enough food for children living
with incarcerated mothers. While both ZLHR and ICRC agreed that
there are few children in the prisons, neither can provide an
accurate number. ZLHR estimates the number to be around 20
children, and notes that children are generally not allowed to live
with an incarcerated mother past the age of two.

A Sick Populace

20. (SBU) Healthcare within the ZPS is effectively nonexistent. In
theory, the intent is for each prison to have a nursing team to
handle daily needs, while regional doctors are called for serious
cases. However, with the exception of the Bulawayo region, most
regions have no doctors.

21. (SBU) To overcome the lack of health professionals in the ZPS,
some prisons have entered into partnerships with the military or
civil organizations. For example, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA)
assists Mutimurefu Prison in Masvingo Province by providing a doctor
for a bimonthly clinic in the prison. The ZNA doctor attends
difficult cases that are initially pre-screened by the nurses. In
Chipinge prison located in Manicaland, the NGO, Medecins du Monde
(MDM), provides drugs for malaria, HIV, and other illnesses, while
medical services are provided by the Chipinge District Hospital.
However, because the Chipinge Prison has no vehicles, often these
services cannot be provided. Significantly, no prisons in Zimbabwe
are medically staffed or equipped to deal with emergency medical
Qare medically staffed or equipped to deal with emergency medical

22. (SBU) In addition to the lack of medical personnel, prisons
experience severe drug shortages. Routine drugs for asthma,
hypertension, and diabetes are in short supply, and prisoners may go
days without receiving proper medication. The lack of some
antibiotics has resulted in sexually transmitted diseases and
urinary tract infections being treated with inappropriate
antibiotics. This practice has contributed to a growing problem of
microbial drug resistance, which is transmitted to the non-prison
population as inmates are released.

23. (SBU) By far, the mentally ill are the most affected by the
collapsed medical infrastructure within the ZPS. Under Zimbabwean

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law, inmates with psychiatric conditions are required to be examined
by two doctors, who must both confirm the mental illness and then
recommend that patients either be released or their conditions
stabilized before they are returned to a prison facility. However,
mentally ill prisoners routinely face long waiting periods, as much
as three years, before being evaluated. In Masvingo Remand Prison,
with a prison population of 263, as many as 42 prisoners suffering
from mental illness have never been examined by doctors. This has
resulted in trial delays and exacerbated mental illness.

The HIV Crisis

24. (SBU) ZLHR estimates that 52 per cent of the prison population
in Zimbabwe is HIV positive. ZLHR describes the incarceration of any
HIV infected prisoner as "a death sentence," citing the government's
failure to ensure consistent access to anti-retroviral therapy and
an inability to provide adequate nutrition. While ZPS regulations
permit prisoners who were enrolled in an anti-retroviral therapy
program prior to incarceration to continue to receive medication,
the reality is that without prison transport, it is practically
impossible for prisoners to receive medications from the clinics.
Additionally, because not all prisoners are tested for HIV upon
admittance to the prison, many are unaware of their HIV status until
they have full-blown AIDS.

A Dramatically Reduced Death Rate

25. (SBU) In spite of the wretched conditions, all of the NGOs we
spoke with agree that the death rate has decreased dramatically this
year. However, since the ZPS does not keep statistics on the death
rate in the prisons it is impossible to accurately quantify. During
the height of the prison crisis in 2008, human rights watchers
conservatively estimated that approximately 40-50 prisoners died
each week. The ICRC currently estimates only 40 deaths a month.
Most observers attribute the dramatic decrease in the death rate to
ICRC's feeding program. However, some more cynical observers
believe that the weakest inmates have already died and the death
rate has decreased because only the strongest inmates are left.


26. (SBU) Without doubt, the ICRC's robust response to the Zimbabwe
prison crisis has produced immediate results. Thousands of
Zimbabwean prisoners who would have previously starved to death have
been saved. However, their agreement with the GOZ also means that
the one organization that has unlimited access to the prisons will
not share information about the true extent of the crisis, which
could help address remaining problems. This permits the GOZ to
continue to deny culpability, while allowing it to use the ICRC as a
Qcontinue to deny culpability, while allowing it to use the ICRC as a
rebuttal to charges of continued human rights abuses. Although the
"devil's bargain" has saved lives, it has also contributed to
continued secrecy about conditions in Zimbabwe's prisons. END


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