Rights group says Mugabe loyalists used rape to terrorize political opposition in Zimbabwe

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Group: Mugabe loyalists raped women during vote

JOHANNESBURG — Supporters of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe used rape to terrorize the political opposition during last year’s contested elections, international human rights activists said Thursday.

AIDS-Free World, led by former UNAIDS envoy Stephen Lewis, released a 64-page report that documents 380 rapes it said were committed by Mugabe loyalists.

Some 70 women linked to Zimbabwe’s opposition detailed to the group how they were raped, kept as sex slaves and even forced to watch their daughters being raped. Ten became pregnant following the attacks and many believe they were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“These women were raped because they were politically defiant,” said Betsy Apple, the organization’s legal director. “It was meant to punish them and their communities.”

Efforts to get comment from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party on the report were not successful Thursday.

Groups monitoring the March 2008 elections reported scores of deaths and thousands of cases of illegal arrests, assaults and rapes by militias operating in cities and out of countryside camps. Election officials declared a runoff was necessary after the vote but opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out, citing attacks against his supporters.

Mugabe was later declared the winner, but he formed a unity government in February with Tsvangirai as prime minister. Many though fear the coalition will collapse because of a lack of cooperation from Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler.

“The politically orchestrated and systematic campaign of sexual violence unleashed against women who supported the opposition carves yet another chapter in the annals of Robert Mugabe’s legacy of depravity,” Lewis said.

The rapes documented by Lewis’ organization began in 2007 but increased dramatically in 2008 with 64 percent occurring between the March election and the June runoff when tensions in Zimbabwe were at their height.

All of the women said their rapists were clearly identifiable as ZANU-PF supporters. Many arrived at the women’s homes late at night wearing party T-shirts or singing party songs. Sometimes they were in mobs of up to 200 men who terrorized locals.

“When the 10th man finished raping me they said they were going to rape my daughter … My daughter was 5 years old,” one woman from the capital, Harare, told interviewers.

“During the rape my daughter was crying and trying to resist but they kept pushing her down. I was confused and in shock and had no strength to say or do anything or even move,” the woman said.

The majority were abducted and taken to camps where they were gang-raped by five or more men. Ten of the women were pregnant at the time they were attacked. More than half of the women said they were beaten with fists, sticks, electric cords or metal rods before or after they were raped. Six women said they had to be taken to hospital in wheelbarrows or carts.

Just over half of the women reported their rapes to police and few of the perpetrators have been prosecuted, enjoying protection by police who have long been aligned to Mugabe. Few of the women have had access to medical treatment or counseling.

Activists are calling on Zimbabwe’s neighbors and the international community to help ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. The group fears that the victims’ stories will be lost as the world throws support behind the unity government and attempts to rebuild Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy.

“This report is both a reminder of the past and a threat of what the future might bring,” Apple said.

On the Net: www.aids-freeworld.org

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