United Nations human rights experts have urged the Zimbabwean government to immediately end a reported pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent.
In statement, the United Nations experts condemned the abduction, torture and sexual abuse of three female oppotion activists – Harare West Member of Parliament Joanna Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – who were seized at a checkpoint by suspected state security agents on May 13th while they were taking part in a Movement for Democratic Change Alliance protest over food shortages in the country under a nationwide coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown.
The statement read in part, “After almost 48 hours, the three women were dumped in a marketplace. They were immediately hospitalised to be treated for the injuries they sustained while they were abducted. A few days later, they were charged with violating COVID-19 regulations on public gatherings and for purportedly intending to promote public violence and breach of peace.
The United Nations experts said, “The charges against the three women should be dropped. Targeting peaceful dissidents, including youth leaders, in direct retaliation for the exercise of their freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression is a serious violation of human rights law.”
They called on the Zimbabwean authorities to “urgently prosecute and punish the perpetrators of this outrageous crime, and to immediately enforce a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for abductions and torture throughout the country” to ensure the effective protection of women against sexual violence, and to bring those responsible to account.
The experts expressed grave alarm over such abductions, saying this was not an isolated incident.
They said in 2019 alone, 49 cases of abductions and torture were reported in Zimbabwe, without investigations leading to perpetrators being held to account.
“Enforced disappearances of women often involve sexual violence, and even forced impregnation, with enormous harm inflicted not only on their physical health and integrity, but also in terms of the resulting psychological damage, social stigma and disruption of family structures.
“Under the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, which includes enforced disappearance and violence against women, Zimbabwe must take all measures in its power to prevent such abuse, to investigate suspected violations, and to bring any perpetrators to justice.”
They also urged the government to allow official visits of UN human rights experts with a view to assessing the human rights situation in the country.
Responding to the UN experts’ remarks, Zanu PF member, Dr. Masimba Mavaza, said. “It’s not true that the ruling party and government abduct opponents. All this is a creation of the opposition whose members are abducting each other all the time and then claim that they have been brutalized by the government.”
Information permanent secretary, Nick Mangwana, was unavailable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.