Human Rights Watch warned Monday that the political violence it says the Zimbabwe government has launched against its opposition has “extinguished any chance” that the presidential run-off election set for June 27 can be free and fair.
"If current conditions are maintained, there is no possibility of a credible, free and fair poll," concluded the Human Rights Watch report entitled "Bullets for Each of You," an allusion to a reported warning by soldiers to villagers in Karoi, Mashonaland West, as to the consequences of voting for the the opposition in the presidential run-off.
The rights watchdog charged that the government of President Robert Mugabe has mounted a "campaign of violence and repression" and is "actively, systematically and methodically" targeting officials, members and perceived supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.
The official results of the March 29 presidential first round released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission showed Tsvangirai with 47.9% of ballots, trailed by Mr. Mugabe with 43.2%, though Tsvangirai's MDC formation says he won an outright majority.
Human Rights Watch charges that officials of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, "working through proxy forces of so-called war veterans and youth militia, backed by members of the armed forces and police" have killed at least 36 members of the opposition and inflicted beatings on at least another 2,000 people since the March 29 ballot. Human Rights Watch added that the number of those attacked is probably much higher.
"ZANU-PF officials and 'war veterans' are beating, torturing and mutilating suspected MDC activists and supporters in hundreds of base camps, many of them army bases, established across the provinces as local operations centers," the report states.
"Abusive 're-education' meetings are being held to compel MDC supporters into voting for Mugabe. In one of these meetings, on May 5 in Chiweshe, ZANU-PF officials and 'war veterans beat six men to death and tortured another 70 men and women, including a 76-year-old woman publish thrashed" before assembled villagers.
The report said the government "is allowing those perpetrating violence to do so with impunity. Instead of taking action to restore normality and conditions conducive to free and fair elections, it is further clamping down on civil society."
It said mediation efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki have been fruitless, and it urged the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to take decisive action to stop the violence in the short time left until the election.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Africa Carolyn Norris told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the group’s investigation showed that the political violence is clearly sponsored by President Mugabe's government.
Meanwhile, research by the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a local group, showed violence in April increased nearly five-fold from levels before the March 29 elections.
The Peace Project report said violence is spreading like “an infectious disease” from provinces prone to political violence, such as the Midlands, Manicaland, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland Central, to provinces which had previously experienced less violence, including Matebeleland North and South, and metropolitan Bulawayo.
Peace Project Chairman Alois Chaumba told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the group’s research shows a worrisome upward trend in violence and the establishment of torture camps ahead of the run-off.
In a related development, the Office of the Attorney General announced it will deny bail to all persons arrested for committing or inciting political violence. But spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the measure is intended to put key opposition members behind bars during the run-off campaign.
The Office of the Attorney General’s refused to say how many murder cases it is now investigating. The MDC claims some 60 of its members have been killed and ZANU-PF says two of its members have also died in the post-election violence.
Deputy Attorney General Johannes Tomana told reporter Blessing Zulu that the move is intended to curb political violence and lawlessness.
Elsewhere, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network said the displacement of some 30,000 voters by politically motivated violence in recent months raises questions as to whether the presidential run-off ballot set for June 27 can be free and fair.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network National Director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said her group is satisfied with some aspects of preparedness for the ballot, but it is concerned about displaced voters and the government’s delay in accrediting local observers.
Chipfunde-Vava told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that her organization considers 9,231 voting places sufficient.