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Politically Motivated Sexual Violence: Questions and Recommendations for Zimbabwe’s 2016 Universal Periodic Review

Universal Periodic Review 

Read our full submission to the Universal Period Review on Zimbabwe.

During the 2008 Zimbabwe elections, women from every province of the country were victims of brutal rape, torture, and beatings. They bore the brunt of a widespread campaign to intimidate voters, particularly supporters of the opposition party, and win the election. The victims described exceptionally violent rape and torture perpetrated by ZANU-PF youth militia, agents of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization, soldiers and people who identify as veterans of the liberation war and are now affiliated with ZANU-PF. This orchestrated campaign of violence rises to the level of crimes against humanity under international law.

AIDS-Free World and the Research and Advocacy Unit in Zimbabwe (RAU) collected over seventy legal affidavits, documenting these crimes in two reports entitled “Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe”, and “No Hiding Place”. Other international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Southern African Litigation Center in South Africa, have also documented mass, state-sponsored crimes that took place.

Why are crimes from 2008 still relevant?
As opposition to the Zimbabwean government grows, there is increasing concern that those in power will once again resort to violence, including rape, torture and intimidation, in order to hold on to that power, particularly during the next presidential election in 2018. Continued impunity for politically motivated sexual violence emboldens perpetrators, sending the message that orchestrated campaigns of violence will once again go unpunished.

Has the Zimbabwe Government ever responded to these allegations?
There have been no investigations or prosecutions related to the politically motivated rapes, despite the issue being raised to the government on multiple occasions. Specifically, in 2011 RAU reached out to representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Women Affairs & Community Development, and the Ministry of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs, informing them about the rapes and the ongoing harm to victims. In response, the Minister of Health promised to set up a multi-ministerial committee to assist the victims, but this has been never done. In 2012, a number of organizations organized a public conference to discuss politically motivated rape from 2008. The conference was attended by civil society and representatives from the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender & Community Development, the Ministry of Justice & Legal Affairs and the Attorney General’s office, and provided an opportunity for some of the victims to speak about their ordeals. Despite these interventions and the information given to the government, no investigations were initiated, and no effort was made to contact more victims.

Did the 2011 UPR of Zimbabwe address any of these issues?
Both Canada and Austria raised the issue of politically motivated rapes during the 2011 Zimbabwe UPR, and Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand and Germany all raised the issue of impunity for 2008 politically motivated violence in general. Though largely ignoring the questions and recommendations raised by these countries, the Government of Zimbabwe did accept certain UPR recommendations which, if implemented, would have moved towards an end to impunity for perpetrators of these crimes. These include: addressing legislative gaps regarding gender based violence and discrimination against women; strengthening protection mechanisms against gender-based violence; consolidating mechanisms to protect all women against all forms of violence; ensuring the Organ of National Healing and Reconciliation fully implements its mandate; and engaging civil society in the implementation of UPR recommendations.

Proposed Questions for Zimbabwe
We encourage member states to ask the Government of Zimbabwe difficult questions regarding the politically motivated sexual violence that was organized during the 2008 elections. Some proposed questions include:

(i)      Given that allegations of politically motivated sexual violence during the 2008 elections have been brought to the Government’s attention on numerous occasions, what steps has Zimbabwe made to investigate these allegations?

(ii)      How will the government ensure that victims do not face any reprisals or are protected from intimidation by perpetrators?

(iii)     Since party officials and government officials have been implicated in allegations of politically motivated sexual violence, please detail what steps Zimbabwe has taken to provide an independent body to conduct investigations?

(iv)     What steps has the Government taken to strengthen protection mechanisms against gender-based violence?

(v)      Will you allow neighboring states to investigate, within Zimbabwe’s borders, allegations that international crimes were committed in Zimbabwe in 2008?

(vi)     When will the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill be re-introduced for discussion in Parliament, considering that it was withdrawn in May 2016?

(vii)    Please explain in detail how you will guarantee the independence of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission if it reports directly to a Minister rather than to Parliament?

Recommendations to Zimbabwe for the 2016 UPR Cycle
AIDS-Free World, RAU and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum have filed a joint UPR submission detailing evidence of widespread and systematic politically motivated sexual violence by ZANU PF operatives in 2008. We encourage you to read the submission in full, which concludes with the following seven recommendations to the Government of Zimbabwe:

(i)      Recognize that its commitments in the 2011 UPR to protect women from violence and strengthen protection mechanisms against gender-based violence, as well as its international and regional treaty obligations, must include a duty to investigate all allegations of politically motivated rape, including those occurring in 2008.

(ii)      Amend the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill to conform with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.  Give powers to the National Peace & Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) to order criminal investigations where crimes have been committed and to make provisions for psychosocial support for victims.

(iii)     Amend the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill to ensure that the NPRC is independent and impartial, and that it reports directly to the elected members of Parliament rather than to a Minister appointed by the President.

(iv)     Explicitly state that the “post-conflict” mandate and scope of the NPRC includes acts of violence that occurred since 1980.

(v)      Strike sections 8(7)[1] and 8(10)[2] from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill, which allow for undue ministerial interference in the work of the NPRC.

(vi)     Operationalize the Organ for National Healing and Reconciliation and Integration and ensure it is an independent institution.

(vii)    Permit states parties to the ICC to investigate and prosecute international crimes alleged to have occurred in Zimbabwe, and cooperate with the International Criminal Court and the states parties to the Rome Statute who wish to do so.


[1] Section 8(7) currently reads: “The minister may, at any stage during an investigation by the Commission, produce to the Commission a certificate in writing signed by him or her to the effect that the disclosure of any evidence or documentation or class of evidence or documentation specified in the certificate is, in his or her opinion, contrary to the public interest on the grounds that it may prejudice the defence, external relations, internal security or economic interests of the State, whereupon the Commission shall make arrangements for evidence relating to that matter to be heard in camera at a closed hearing and shall take such other action as may be necessary or expedient to prevent the disclosure of that matter.”

[2] Section 8(10) currently reads: “Where the Commission receives a certificate under subsection (7), it may, if it has already commenced an investigation as a public hearing— (a) convert the public hearing into a closed hearing;  or  (b) close its proceedings to the public for the purpose of taking the evidence and documentation in question.