Report finds "structural impunity" rife

The heat was turned up a notch on Zimbabwe on Tuesday as Amnesty International, which once campaigned for the release from prison of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, presented a report documenting what it called "structural impunity" in the country.

Added to a looming food crisis expected to affect six million people and the introduction of a law banning 2,900 mainly white commercial farmers from working on their land, the government now also had to fend off fresh accusations that it allowed human rights violations to go unpunished.

Amnesty International spokesman Samkelo Mokhine said at the launch of the report in Johannesburg that there had been a pattern of human rights violations in Zimbabwe since the 1970s and 1980s. But Zimbabweans had never seen the issue of impunity addressed, they had only seen pardons, amnesties and clemencies.

"The ordinary Zimbabwean hasn't had any sense of justice - not just from the 70s, (under the previous Rhodesian government) but up to 2002," he said.

"With this report we are hoping to jog the international community and the Southern African Development Community into action. If we don't do anything, what hope are we giving to the ordinary Zimbabwean?

"They are facing a food crisis, unattended human rights violations and the undermining of their judiciary. People are assaulted and killed with impunity - what message are we sending to them?"

The report, 'Zimbabwe: The toll of impunity', examined politically-motivated violations before, during, and after the March 2002 presidential election which returned Mugabe to power.

It alleged that violations were primarily committed by members of state-sponsored militia who operated with the consent of the state, and also by state security forces. It said the authorities in Zimbabwe had systematically failed to bring those responsible for serious violations to justice.

To do this the government used presidential amnesties, clemencies and indemnities, prevented investigations into human rights violations, and curbed the freedom of the media. It also allegedly manipulated the police and eroded the independence of the judiciary.

An example of the use of amnesties was a clemency order proclaimed by Mugabe on 6 October 2000 after the June 2000 parliamentary elections. This gave indemnity to anyone who committed a politically motivated crime from 1 January to 31 July of that election year. The indemnity excluded rape, murder and fraud but included grievous bodily harm - the category of crime that torture falls under.

To facilitate impunity, the state denied involvement with the militia, even though the militia had often been transported and supported by the police, the report charged.

The 2002 Public Order and Security Act criminalised a wide range of activities associated with freedom of expression, association and assembly, and violated Zimbabwe's obligations under international human rights law, Amnesty said.

The new Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act empowered the Information Minister to launch investigations into the operations of media houses without the involvement of either the police or the judiciary.

The judiciary itself was being undermined with the government openly defying superior court rulings that contradict its policy and harassing judges perceived to be critical. Since 2000, two Supreme Court judges, including the Chief Justice, and four High Court judges have resigned.

Impunity was allegedly reinforced by undermining the police. Mokhine said that this also affected policemen who were trying to carry out their duties properly.

"If a policeman investigated allegations of rape against certain militia he would find himself transferred to a rural area or relegated to the 'Commissioners pool' where he will have no desk and no duties. NGOs have stopped trying to report rapes because the policemen don't want to investigate," he said.

Mokhine said Zimbabwe was in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which says states have a duty to bring to justice those within their jurisdiction who are responsible for human rights violations.

Amnesty recommended that Zimbabwe ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture, allow a thorough impartial investigation into allegations of human rights violations, make sure the police abide by international human rights standards, and that an independent police monitoring mechanism be created.

Laws not conforming to international human rights standards should be repealed or amended, and further international pressure should be applied on the Zimbabwean authorities to allow the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on torture and on the independence of judges and lawyers to take action.

It also encouraged more visits by bodies like the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The African Commission on Human and People's Rights was currently in Zimbabwe on a fact finding mission. The delegation included Jainaba Johm of Gambia, Fiona Adolu of Uganda and Barney Pityana of South Africa.

Mokhine also urged SADC to become more involved. "The rights of ordinary Zimbabweans should take precedence over politics," he said referring to regional "quiet diplomacy" policies.

The report had been presented to the Zimbabwe government.

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