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Amnesty International Urges Zimbabwe to Halt Exhumations of Mass Grave

  • Tatenda Gumbo

Amnesty International Zimbabwe researcher Simeon Mawanza says the group is concerned that if Harare allows mass graves to be disturbed by non-experts, any remaining evidence of crimes could be tainted

Amnesty International has added its voice to those of Zimbabwean veterans and other organizations which say the exhumation of human remains from the Chibondo Mine shaft near Mount Darwin in Mashonaland West must be halted.

The international human rights advocacy group said exhumations of bodies said to be of 1970s liberation war era casualties should be carried out by forensic experts.

The Zimbabwe Peoples Revolutionary Army Veterans Trust on Wednesday asked the High Court to halt the exhumations by authorities who say the remains are of fighters killed by troops of the Rhodesian colonial government of Ian Smith.

More than 800 bodies are said to be in the mass grave. The ZANU-PF aligned group Zimbabwe Fallen Heroes Trust started the process of exhumation, then the Home Affairs Ministry took over. But the War Veterans Trust says the process is chaotic.

Buster Magwizi, deputy director of the ZIPRA Veterans Trust, accused the government of defacing history, telling VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere he suspects a cover-up, as the government is not addressing serious issues raised by the mass grave.

Others say President Mugabe and ZANU-PF are exploiting the mass grave for purposes of political propaganda. They say state media reports identifying the dead as liberation war victims is a pre-election ploy to boost sentiment tied to the liberation war, which ZANU-PF has made a cornerstone of its political identity since independence.

Political analyst Charles Mangongera told reporter Tatenda Gumbo that if government exhumations continue, Zimbabweans will want such exhumations to be done across the country, especially in Matabeleland, where an estimated 20,000 people died in the so-called Gukurahundi operation against members of the rival ZAPU movement.

Amnesty International Zimbabwe Researcher Simeon Mawanza said his organization is concerned that if the government allows mass graves to be disturbed by non-experts, any evidence of crimes remaining after three decades could be tainted.

Mawanza said exhumations require professional forensic expertise to ensure proper identification, and determination of the date and cause of death.

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