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ZCTU National Labour Protest - Sept 13, 2006 - Index of articles
September 23, 2006
Broken bones, head injuries, battered
feet, beatings to the point of unconsciousness - these forms of
torture were inflicted by Zimbabwean police on 15 Zimbabwean trade
union leaders last week (13 September), according to their lawyers
"We were taken to the cells in pairs
and five young men with batons beat us for about 15 to 20 minutes
each," said Lucia Matibenga, vice president of the Zimbabwe
congress of trade unions. Mrs Matibenga, 52, suffered a fractured
arm, perforated eardrum and possible kidney damage from her beating.
"Seven of us have broken arms. Others have internal injuries. We
want the world to know what is going on in Zimbabwe," she said.
The Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe,
blithely dismissed the abuse as the work of "one or two overzealous"
officers, in a rare interview while at the United Nations on Thursday.
Significantly he did not say that any police would be punished for
Tragically, the brutal police treatment
of the labour leaders is only the latest of hundreds of cases of
torture by Zimbabwean state agents. According to a growing dossier
compiled by human rights groups, Zimbabwe's police, army and secret
service - the Central Intelligence Organisation - have tortured
people with electric shocks, genital mutilations, near-drownings
and gang rapes in the past.
In recent months the use of torture has
increased, according to statistics from Zimbabwe's
Human Rights Forum, which reported 68 cases of torture in August.
The group concluded that torture has become "widespread and systematic"
against those identified as opposition or critics of the Mugabe
"The Zimbabwe government is one of the
most persistent and brutal torturers in all of Africa today," said
Zimbabwean lawyer Gabriel Shumba, himself a torture survivor now
in exile in South Africa. "But Zimbabwe is a silent atrocity because
African leaders do not want to say anything, even though they know
what is going on. The South African government and the African Union
should condemn the use of torture and violence in Zimbabwe."
What can be done about Zimbabwe's torture?
Considerable effort is needed to understand the roots of the abuse,
how to help the victims and how to stop it. Torture was used in
the country in the years of white minority-ruled Rhodesia. Once
Zimbabwe won majority rule, the police continued to use beatings
as a form of interrogation.
Mr Mugabe employed agents from East Germany's
Stasi and Romania's Securitate to train the security forces. North
Koreans trained the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwean army, known
as Mr Mugabe's Praetorian guard, which carried out widespread torture
and mass killing in the southern Matabeleland region between 1983
and 1987, during which an estimated 20,000 civilians were murdered.
Torture grew alarmingly in 2000 when
Mr Mugabe faced a serious challenge from a new opposition. Camps
were established across the country where police, Mr Mugabe's youth
brigades and others inflicted savage violence upon supporters of
With Zimbabwe's economy in freefall,
inflation above 1,200% and hunger growing, even the aloof and isolated
Mr Mugabe has become aware of the restiveness of the population
and is resorting to intimidation by his security forces to maintain
his control. This has led to the increase in torture reported by
local organisations. Consistently, the Mugabe government has refused
to take action against perpetrators of abuse. State torturers know
they enjoy impunity from prosecution for their crimes - at least
How can the victims be assisted? There
are dedicated doctors inside Zimbabwe who are providing medical
treatment and counselling to torture victims, at considerable risk.
Hundreds of survivors have fled to South Africa where the Zimbabwe
Torture Victims Project provides assistance.
I have interviewed many survivors including
a teenager who survived electric shocks that caused him to bite
through his tongue and a policeman whose penis was skinned. These
people want to tell their stories so the world will know the atrocities
being committed in Zimbabwe. These brave survivors compile the facts
of their cases with affidavits from lawyers, doctors and the victims
themselves. A growing number of offenders in the security forces
have been identified.
This is how to stop the torture: document
the abuse and hold the perpetrators accountable. Government agents
must know that the impunity they currently enjoy will not last forever.
The cases must be publicised across Africa and throughout the world.
The AU's commission on human and peoples rights has already written
a damning report on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, although the
Mugabe regime succeeded in getting it pushed to the side of the
AU's July summit in Banjul, Gambia. The soon-to-be-launched African
court of human rights already has a list of Zimbabwean cases to
Other international bodies are becoming
involved. The London-based anti-torture group Redress and Amnesty
International have produced compelling reports on the extent of
torture in Zimbabwe. The International Bar Association has urged
the international criminal court to press charges against Zimbabwean
torturers, from Robert Mugabe on down.
The South African government has so far
avoided publicly condemning the Mugabe regime. But recently President
Thabo Mbeki has spoken out against human rights abuses in Africa
and he could be moving towards condemning torture in Zimbabwe.
The UN has not been effective on this
front. Zimbabwe has been shielded from rebuke by nations still friendly
with Mr Mugabe. When a known Zimbabwean police torturer was exposed
in a UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, the UN refused to arrest the
man and put him on trial. Shamefully, he returned to Zimbabwe where
he has been identified in new abuses.
In a symposium held in Johannesburg scores
of Zimbabwean civic leaders said the country needs a thorough process
of truth, justice and reconciliation where crimes dating back to
the Rhodesian days are exposed, perpetrators taken to trial and
only then can lasting reconciliation be achieved.
Robert Mugabe wants the world to view
him as the scourge of white farmers, but he does not want to be
revealed as the torturer of black Zimbabweans. It is time that his
filthy secret is exposed and that African leaders condemn it.
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