Rights activists say torture on the rise in Zimbabwe

By Nqobizitha Khumalo

BULAWAYO - Human rights activists on Monday said torture was on the rise in Zimbabwe with 300 cases of torture reported so far this year and the figure is expected to rise sharply as the country inches closer to key presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Politically motivated violence, human rights abuses and torture - mostly blamed on state agents and militant supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party - have since 1999 escalated in the run-up to key elections.

"So far this year we have recorded about 300 cases of torture in Zimbabwe and the cases are still going up," Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum (ZHRF) official Tendai Chabvuta told a regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) conference held in the city of Bulawayo to mark the International Day of Torture.

The cases of torture recorded in the first half of this year are more than the 136 cases recorded for the whole of 2005 and more than 75 percent of the 380 cases of torture recorded last year.

Chabvuta, whose ZHRF documents cases of political violence and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, said Zimbabwe and Angola were the only two countries in the 14-nation SADC that have not signed the International Convention on Torture.

Another expert on torture, Fidelis Mudimu, said the use of torture in Zimbabwe was no longer limited to political cases but had become widespread in the country with the police increasingly using torture to obtain information even from common criminals.

"Torture is the standard form of investigation in Zimbabwe and the police use it to extract confessions on cases whether they are political, social or economic cases that the police are handling," said Mudimu, who works for the Counselling Services Unit of Amani Trust, a local group that provides counseling and support services for victims of abuse.

Torture, which Chabvuta said had become entrenched in Zimbabwe, is prohibited under the country's laws.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and his Home Affairs counterpart Kembo Mohadi were not immediately available to respond to charges that the use of torture was on the rise in Zimbabwe.

However, Harare has in the past rejected criticism of its human rights record by the ZHRF and other non-governmental organisations that it accuses of seeking to use false claims of human rights abuses by state agents as part of a wider Western-led plot to tarnish and vilify Mugabe's government.