2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
February 25, 2009
Zimbabwe, with a population of approximately nine million, is constitutionally a republic, but the government, dominated by President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) since independence, was not freely elected and was authoritarian. The last four national elections--the presidential election in 2002, the parliamentary elections in March 2005, the harmonized presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2008, and the presidential run-off in June--were not free and fair. In the March 29 elections two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) gained a parliamentary majority. Mugabe was declared the winner of the June 27 run-off election after opposing candidate Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew due to ZANU-PF-directed violence that made a free and fair election impossible. Negotiations subsequently took place between ZANU-PF and the two MDC factions aimed at agreement on a power-sharing government. On September 15, all three parties signed a power-sharing agreement under which Mugabe would retain the presidency and Tsvangirai would become prime minister-elect; however, the provisions of the deal had not been implemented by year's end. Although the constitution allows for multiple parties, ZANU-PF, through the use of government and paramilitary forces, intimidated and committed abuses against opposition parties and their supporters and obstructed their activities. The Joint Operation Command (JOC), a group of senior security and civilian authorities, maintained control of the security forces, and often used them to control opposition to ZANU-PF.
The government continued to engage in the pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights, which increased during the year. The ruling party's dominant control and manipulation of the political process through violence, intimidation, and corruption effectively negated the right of citizens to change their government. Unlawful killings and politically motivated abductions increased. State-sanctioned use of excessive force increased, and security forces tortured members of the opposition, student leaders, and civil society activists with impunity. Security forces refused to document cases of political violence committed by ruling party loyalists against members of the opposition. Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Security forces, who regularly acted with impunity, arbitrarily arrested and detained the opposition, members of civil society, labor leaders, journalists, demonstrators, and religious leaders; lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Executive influence and interference in the judiciary continued. The government continued to evict citizens and to demolish homes and informal marketplaces. The government continued to use repressive laws to suppress freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, academic freedom, and movement. Government corruption remained widespread. High-ranking government officials made numerous public threats of violence against demonstrators and members of the opposition. A nearly three-month ban on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) exacerbated food insecurity and poverty. After the ban was lifted, security forces, war veteran groups, and provincial governors continued to interfere with NGO operations, hampering food distributions. Tens of thousands of citizens were displaced in the wake of election-related violence and instability, and the government impeded NGOs' efforts to assist them and other vulnerable populations. The following human rights violations also continued: violence and discrimination against women; trafficking of women and children; discrimination against persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and persons living with HIV/AIDS; harassment and interference with labor organizations critical of government policies; child labor; and forced labor, including of children.