Investigate, Prosecute Responsible Security Forces, says Human Rights Watch.
JOHANNESBURG – The Zimbabwean security forces’ brutal crackdown on civil society leaders and opposition activists continues unabated, despite the protests that sparked it having ended close to two months ago, an international human rights watchdog said Tuesday.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government employed heavy–handed measures surpassing those of his predecessor Robert Mugabe to crush violent protests in urban centres, after disgruntled Zimbabweans took to the streets in a show of anger over a sudden 150 percent hike in the price of fuel on January 14.
Some protesters burned cars at a police station in Chitungwiza, barricaded roads, burned tires on roads to stop police vehicles from patrolling, assaulted people on the streets, and looted shops in Harare, Kadoma, and Bulawayo, according to a report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. Businesses lost property valued at more than $20million during the protests, which opened gaps to the wanton looting, destruction and arson attacks of shops by the uncouth among the violent demonstrators who also stoned cars and attacked those who tried to defy the stay-away calls.
In a January 28 report, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission found that law enforcement agents seemed to “resort to use of brute, excessive and disproportionate force in most circumstances thereby causing avoidable loss of life and also worsening the situation.”
Security forces fired live bullets which fatally floored at least 17 of the protestors and injured dozens of others. More than 1,000 people were rounded up during and after the protests, as government shut down the internet to allegedly black out some inhuman acts perpetrated by the security forces against protest leaders.
In its report titled “Excessive Force Used Against Protesters”, HRW said the security forces used excessive lethal force in crushing the nationwide protests, called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in mid-January. The organisation warned the situation could deteriorate if government failed to address the issues underlying the protests.
It also called on the Harare administration to halt ongoing abuses against civilians, release those detained arbitrarily and appropriately prosecute the responsible members of the security sector.
“Zimbabwe security forces carried out killings, rape, torture, and other grave abuses during and since the January protests,” said Dewa Mavhinga, HRW’s Southern Africa director.
“The authorities should arrest and prosecute those responsible for abuses and send a strong message that crimes by the security forces won’t be tolerated.”
HRW said it’s findings were based on interviews with 45 victims of abuses and their family members, witnesses, activists, medical personnel, lawyers, police officers, and others during a research trip to Harare, Epworth, and Chitungwiza in February, and phone interviews since January.
Among those interviewed, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights revealed they provided emergency medical services to 81 people with gunshot injuries in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Karoi, Chinhoyi, Chitungwiza, Kadoma, and Mutare between January 14 and January 29.
Security forces appeared to use the crackdown to commit numerous cases of rape.
Eight women from Hopley, Southlea Park, and Epworth in Harare province revealed in separate interviews that they were raped by uniformed and armed soldiers and police, some concealing their identities with masks. A 46-year-old woman said that nine armed men, six in army uniform, came to her house in Epworth on January 15 at about 9 p.m. Two soldiers raped her without condoms in front of her teenage son. Police at the local police station allegedly refused to record her complaint, telling her, “these things happen, these things are happening all over the country, so we cannot receive your report or open a police case docket.”
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that police and army personnel carried out apparently indiscriminate door-to-door raids, forcibly entering homes by breaking doors and windows, in some Harare suburbs including Mabvuku, Dzivarasekwa, Warren Park, and Kuwadzana between January 14 and January 29. Human Rights Watch found that the security forces rounded up and detained hundreds of people, many of who were brought before the courts on charges of public violence and criminal nuisance, most of whom remain in detention.
“The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, security forces need to use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except to protect against the imminent threat of death or serious injury,” added HRW.
“Leaders in southern Africa should impress upon Mnangagwa the need for prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into the violence. Southern African leaders should press Mnangagwa to put an end to security force abuses and ensure those responsible are brought to justice,” Mavhinga said.
“Instead of burying his head in the sand when it comes to human rights, President Ramaphosa should publicly urge his Zimbabwean counterpart to deliver on his promise to get to the bottom of these allegations and hold perpetrators to account.”
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