ResourcesPress Release

Zimbabwe: Authorities Must End Harassment of Opposition

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights condemns the arrests, threats of harm including death, and physical assaults on members of opponents or perceived potential opponents, of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, inflicted by government police and security forces and their surrogates since the election in March.

PHR further demands respect for democratic process and the civil and political rights of Zimbabwe’s people and calls on the government to yield to the outcome of the March vote that by reliable accounts resulted in a victory in both parliamentary and presidential elections for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Governments in Africa, Europe and North America, as well as the African Union, United Nations and Southern African Development Community should take all steps needed to end the violence and assure the establishment of a legitimate government in Zimbabwe.

Credible reports since the election have demonstrated that thousands of people, many but not all of which are associated with the opposition, have been beaten and threatened by security forces. Torture camps have reportedly been set up to obtain names of individuals likely to support the opposition and to terrorize people who might support it.

Violence and burning of houses inflicted by forces and gangs associated with the ruling ZANU-PF party have led to significant displacement as people flee the violence in their villages, creating a humanitarian crisis that is greatly exacerbated by the short supply of food in the country. At the same time, some aid organizations are being impeded or threatened by the government in meeting humanitarian needs.

The non-partisan organization, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), whose reporting based on physical examination of victims has a reputation for professionalism and credibility, has documented 323 cases of physical assault by government and government-sponsored forces since April 1, and 83 in the period April 18-21. These only represent a portion of such cases.

The cases documented by ZADHR all involve severe physical assaults and victims include children as young as seven years old. In one case, ZADHR reported that a 39 year old man was abducted from his home at midnight, beaten and suffered a fractured left ulna, fractured ribs on the left side, and a puncture in the lung that is life-threatening. ZADHR also documented four cases of falanga, a form of torture where perpetrators use sticks or bars to beat the soles of a person’s feet, causing severe damage to the tissue beneath the skin and which in some cases never fully heals so that walking becomes painful for life. In a large number of cases, the assaults resulted in extensive haematomas, collections of blood under the skin that result from internal bleeding, signalling very severe pummelling.

According to ZADHR, individuals examined also showed symptoms of severe psychological trauma, stemming not only from physical attack but from the terror of seeking to escape impending abduction or attack, the destruction of their homes and property, and separation from family members. One 64 year old man reportedly lost the ability to speak.

Officials responsible for the health of the population have become engaged in violence and threats of violence. The Guardian newspaper (UK) reports that according to a sworn statement supported by other eyewitnesses, the Minister of Health, David Parirenyatwa, came to Murewa, a town about 75 km from Harare, brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle, and threatened to kill citizens if they did not vote for President Robert Mugabe in a second round of voting.

  • Physicians for Human Rights demands that the government of Zimbabwe immediately cease politically-motivated assaults, intimidation and threats against members of the opposition MDC or its potential supporters, whether inflicted by its own agents or surrogates such as youth militias or "war veterans” and hold accountable all individuals who inflict violence. The Minister of Health should be dismissed and a criminal investigation initiated into his threats to use violence.
  • PHR urges the United Nations, the African Union and members of the Southern Africa Development Community, especially South Africa, as well as other governments, consistent with their obligations under international and regional charters and with the Responsibility to Protect populations from crimes against humanity, to

◦ Require that that the current government of Zimbabwe

    • Recognize the legitimate winner of the presidential as well as parliamentary election and take all steps needed to pressure the current government to recognize the results;
    • Cease inflicting violence on its own people, and to take all steps needed to end the violence, protect the population from infringements on human rights and bring about adherence to the rule of law;
    • Permit individuals to safely return to their homes;
    • Allow and encourage distribution of humanitarian aid and provision of medical care to the wounded;
    • Permit human rights monitors and media unrestricted access to the country.

◦ Through the UN Security Council, send a special envoy to Zimbabwe to be its representative there until the crisis is resolved.

◦ Support human rights defender and medical groups that provide aid during the current crisis.

  • PHR also urges medical and public health organizations throughout the world speak out against the government-sponsored brutality inflicted on people in Zimbabwe, and to condemn the involvement of the Minister of Health in threatening and inciting violence.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Deputy Director, Media & Communications1.917.679.0110

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