Zimbabwe: Time for accountability


1 Introduction

"I am now disabled. I can't work in the field. I want to be compensated for the injuries. I want to talk to my attackers and be told the truth about why I was beaten. I also want them to be brought to justice."

Lyn, an 86-year-old woman victim of politically motivated violence, August 2008

The power-sharing agreement reached by Zimbabwe's three main political parties in September 2008(1) has created a rare moment of opportunity for Zimbabwean authorities to tackle the long-standing legacy of impunity for human rights violations and build a culture of accountability. Amnesty International is issuing this report at this time to draw attention to the importance of addressing the long-standing problem of impunity for human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Amnesty International is appealing to the government of Zimbabwe to institute a series of measures to break the culture of impunity which has persisted since 2000, and which was a major factor in the wave of politically motivated human rights violations after elections on 29 March 2008.


Impunity is the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. It denies the victims their right to justice and redress. It means that it is not possible to hold those responsible for violations to account -- whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings -- since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties. Nor is it possible to ensure that victims receive reparations. Impunity arises from a failure by states to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to ensure that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent their recurrence.(2) The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has noted that "impunity continues to be the principle cause of the perpetuation and encouragement of human rights violations and, in particular, torture."(3)

Despite Zimbabwe's legal obligations to tackle impunity, the people who have violated human rights since 2000, and most recently in the context of the 2008 elections, have not been made to account for their actions. In particular those in the security forces, "war veterans"(4) and supporters of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) have faced no investigation, prosecution or censure. On the contrary, they appear to have been encouraged to commit further human rights violations by the failure of the government to take action against perpetrators of human rights violations. Amnesty International's findings show that the violence that followed the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections on 29 March 2008 was sponsored by the government. The Zimbabwe security forces - army, police and intelligence service - were directly involved in committing human rights violations against perceived opponents of the ZANU-PF government. The security forces (including retired members) and some "war veterans" were the main force behind the human rights violations. They also organized ZANU-PF supporters to commit human rights abuses against opposition supporters.  

People suspected to have voted for the opposition parties, human rights defenders(5)and officials of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were targeted for beatings, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary killing, abduction, forced eviction and displacement. The victims also had their homes destroyed, their food reserves plundered, their livestock killed, or were injured so badly that they could no longer earn a living. Few of these cases have ever been investigated as perpetrators appear to enjoy state protection. The plight of the victims was compounded by the government's decision on 4 June 2008 to impose a ban on the field operations of NGOs and humanitarian organizations. Victims who lost their food supplies during the violence continue to face acute food insecurity.  

Amnesty International is also concerned about the culture of impunity which permeates the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). In 2007, Amnesty International documented a series of human rights violations by the Law and Order Section and the anti-riot unit in the ZRP. Suspected government opponents were beaten, tortured and detained in a manner that denied their internationally guaranteed rights. The allegations of torture, excessive use of force and related violations by the police have not been investigated and those responsible have not been held to account.

There can be no durable resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis without deliberate government measures to break the culture of impunity. The failure to ensure justice and redress prolongs and intensifies the pain felt by the victims and their families. It also effectively gives a green light to the perpetrators to continue. The government has an obligation under international human rights law to ensure the right of victims of human rights violations to an effective remedy.(6)