ZIMBABWE: MILITIAS USING FOOD AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AS TOOLS OF REPRESSION

'We have already received evidence that ZANU-PF officials in charge of distributing food supplies in many rural areas are discriminating against those believed to be supporters of the MDC,' said Amnesty International.

ZANU-PF affiliated youth militias stationed outside long queues to buy grain are reported to be targeting MDC supporters for assaults and intimidation to prevent them from getting food. In the rural town of Mvurwi, for example, a man standing in line to buy maize meal was beaten after being recognised as an opposition activist by militia members.

Human rights lawyer Innocent Gonese confirmed this week that war veteran-led militias control the Grain Marketing Board food distribution facilities in the Matabeleland North Province. They have demanded ZANU-PF party cards before allowing people to buy maize meal. He confirmed similar acts of discrimination in the towns of Masvingo and Gutu. Amnesty International has also received individual reports confirming militia control of food distribution in Kwekwe, Norton, Plumtree, Beitbridge,Victoria Falls, Chipinge, Kariba and Tsholotsho, north of Bulawayo.

'The Zimbabwe authorities' political retribution carried out by the militia may become even more widely felt as the risk of famine in Zimbabwe deepens', warned the human rights organisation.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)'s Global and Early Warning System predicted at the end of 2001 that more than 700,000 people were at risk of food shortages, with another 250,000 urban dwellers already experiencing food difficulties.

Amnesty International is also deeply concerned at mounting reports of rape and sexual torture by militia groups, continuing the pattern seen in the run up to the March presidential elections. During a visit to Zimbabwe last month Amnesty International interviewed Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Kwekwe and Chinhoyi who described rape and sexual abuse by militia members. This pattern of sexual violence has also recently been documented by Zimbabwean human rights organisations.

'The Zimbabwe government has an absolute obligation, in accordance with international human rights standards, to protect all its citizens from human rights violations,' said Amnesty International. 'Instead, the government's condoning of militia violence serves a political purpose: destroying an opposition party and taking revenge on Zimbabweans who may still support the MDC.'

For recent Amnesty International statements on Zimbabwe, see:

SOUTH AFRICA: AFRICAN ACTIVISTS SPEAK OUT ON ZIMBABWE (28 March 2002 press release)

ZIMBABWE: CITIZENS' RIGHTS NOT POLITICS MUST BE THE TROIKA AGENDA (19 March 2002 press release)

ZIMBABWE: NEW RISK OF VIOLENCE AS ELECTION OBSERVERS LEAVE (15 March 2002 press release)

ZIMBABWE: High risk of human rights violations (14 March 2002 press release)

Zimbabwe: Hundreds detained in politically-motivated crackdown (12 March 2002 press release)

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