Zimbabweans had little to celebrate on Friday 18 April, the 28th anniversary of their country's independence. Since the country went to the polls on 29 March 2008, nearly three weeks ago, the results of the presidential vote have still not been announced and violent attacks on opposition supporters are increasing in number.
Amnesty International has received confirmed reports of one death and over 240 people injured as a result of state-sponsored human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Of those 240 people, 18 are currently in hospital with severe injuries.
The number of casualties has risen sharply since the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called a general strike on Tuesday 15 April. Forty-two recorded cases were treated by doctors on 17 April alone.
At least 150 people have been arrested since 14 April and on the morning of 18 April were detained in Harare Central police station alone.
Violence appears to be targeted at active supporters of the MDC and their families, particularly those in rural areas and low income suburbs where the MDC appears to have gained more votes than the ruling the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. Mashonaland East and West provinces have been particularly badly affected and numbers of reported incidents of violence are on the increase in Harare.
Victims report receiving death threats unless they vote "correctly" in a second round of voting should it be found that there was no outright winner of the presidential vote.
Many of the casualties have seen their homes, food reserves and livestock destroyed and are now displaced. Hundreds of homesteads are reported to have been burnt in Manicaland and Mashonaland East.
Perpetrators of the violence include so-called “war veterans” and supporters of the ruling party, as well as police officers and soldiers. State actors are accused of working hand-in-hand with ZANU-PF supporters. Individuals have been abducted from their homes by members of the military, in uniform and in plain clothes, as well as by ZANU-PF supporters.
An MDC activist in Mashonaland West province was stabbed to death on 13 April by ZANU-PF supporters outside his house, according to local reports. His brother, a 58-year-old man, also an MDC member from Mashonaland West, reported that three groups of about 60 ZANU-PF supporters came to the MDC activist’s house and started throwing stones asking him to come out because they wanted to "sort him out".
Though nine other MDC members also gathered at his house and retaliated by throwing back the stones, they were out-numbered by the ZANU-PF supporters. The ZANU-PF supporters managed to reach his house and abduct his brother, the MDC activist.
The MDC activist was stabbed twice with a knife in the stomach and died at the scene. The brother of the deceased also suffered serious injuries and had to be hospitalised. The case was reported to the police who are reported to have said they were too afraid to intervene.
A 21-year-old woman in Harare, an MDC activist, was woken up during the night on 30 March 2008 by ZANU-PF supporters after she had been celebrating the victory of MDC councillors in the election. The ZANU-PF supporters took her from her house and assaulted her with clenched fists and sjamboks [whips].
A 30-year-old man from Mashonaland East province reported that, on 9 April, a group of "war veterans" burnt down three houses at about 11pm. The inhabitants had previously received a tip-off that this would happen and had fled to the bush.
On another occasion, nine people from a residential area in Harare were detained, while they were attending a funeral, by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police Support Unit and other people suspected to be members of the Zimbabwe National Army who were dressed in plain clothes.
On 16 April, 22 people were abducted by soldiers and ZANU-PF supporters from their homes in a high density suburb outside Harare city centre during the early hours of the morning. Some of the people were assaulted with booted feet and slapped all over the body.
In some cases, doors were forced open to enable ZANU-PF supporters and members of the army to gain entry into the homes of the victims. Victims were not informed of the charges levelled against them either as they were arrested or after they had been taken to police stations.
In a statement published in newspapers in approximately seven Southern African countries on and around Zimbabwe’s Independence Day, Amnesty International’s Secretary General appeals to President Robert Mugabe in his capacity as head of state and as leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party to denounce and bring to an end all human rights abuses, including violent attacks by soldiers, police, “war veterans” and ZANU-PF supporters.
Irene Khan also appeals to the Commissioner-General of Police and the Zimbabwe National Army Commander as well as the chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association.
She urges Southern African leaders to redouble their diplomatic efforts to avoid further deterioration of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and to acknowledge publicly and express concern at the human rights abuses being perpetrated by members of state security organizations, “war veterans”, and ZANU-PF supporters.