Zimbabwe: Spiralling human rights crisis in elections run-up - UK Government must act

The human rights organisation is concerned at the spiralling human rights crisis in the country and is asking the UK government to raise the issue at this week's EU ACP (African-Carribean-Pacific) meeting (1-3 April) and to demand immediate action from the international community.

Amnesty International is concerned about reports that ZANU-PF officials are using food aid to buy votes in Highfield and Kuwadzana, the two high-density suburbs where the by-elections are set to take place.

The Zimbabwean government stands to increase its power and ability to stifle opposition if it wins these by-elections. Victory this weekend, and in a further three by-elections whose dates are yet to be confirmed, would give the ruling ZANU-PF party two thirds of the seats in Parliament and the ability to alter the constitution.

Amnesty International said:

'Politically motivated violence and arrests have increased dramatically in a spiralling human rights crisis. Public order legislation is being used to harass and arrest critics of the government.

'There is no hope for a peaceful future in Zimbabwe unless the international community intervenes immediately. It must demand that the Zimbabwean government ends human rights violations, guarantees freedom of expression and allows fair distribution of food aid.'

State-sponsored intimidation of government opponents has been reported:

  • More than 250 people have received hospital treatment for torture injuries following the recent mass stay-away organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the run-up to the elections.
  • There are accounts of uniformed Zimbabwean National Army (ZNA) soldiers visiting the houses of victims in groups of up to 50, and subjecting them, and sometimes other family members, to beatings with batons, whips and chains. Many were taken away for prolonged torture sessions.

Background

The Zimbabwean government has continued to use restrictive legislation, such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), as a vehicle for intimidating and arbitrarily arresting real and perceived opposition members, independent media workers and human rights activists.

According to the Zimbabwean Human Rights NGO Forum, during the month of February 2003 alone, there were 122 incidents of unlawful arrest and 118 reported violations of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

To date, the month of March has seen a very marked increase in arrests and torture, a trend yet to continue in the run-up to the by-elections. During 2002, there were over 1,000 reported cases of torture and at least 58 political killings.

The MDC issued an ultimatum to the government on 20 March to meet several demands, which include restoration of the rule of law, depoliticisation of the police force and army, and disbanding of the youth militia. The deadline is 31 March.

The MDC has warned that failure by the government to meet its demands will result in further mass action. Incidents of politically-motivated violence and arbitrary arrests continue and will likely increase in the days and weeks that follow 31 March.

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