Johannesburg — "When the tenth man finished raping me they said they were going to rape my daughter. I cried out but I could not even stand up at this time...they raped my daughter (while) I was there and I couldn't do anything to stop them. My daughter was five years old..."
This is the testimony of a woman from Harare, one of 70 survivor's sworn affidavits as detailed in the AIDS-Free World report titled "Electing to Rape: Sexual terror in Mugabe's Zimbabwe". AIDS-Free World is an international advocacy organisation that aims to promote more urgent and effective global responses to HIV/AIDS.
The report was launched on International Human Rights Day as an appeal to leaders around the world to stop ignoring the violence being carried out against the people of Zimbabwe and to declare the systematic rape of women pre-, post- and during the 2008 elections, a crime against humanity.
"The report unequivocally establishes that Robert Mugabe and his henchmen were guilty of crimes against humanity," said AIDS-Free World co-director Stephen Lewis. "The politically-orchestrated and systematic campaign of sexual violence unleashed against women who supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) carves yet another chapter in the annals of Robert Mugabe's legacy of depravity."
Over the course of 11 months, AIDS-Free World spent over 300 hours with its legal team interviewing dozens of women who described brutal beatings, gang rape, abduction and torture at the hands of people who they say were clearly identifiable as ZANU-PF youth militia or war veterans.
Betsy Apple, legal director and general counsel of the organisation, said the 64-page report, which documents 380 rapes committed by 241 perpetrators across Zimbabwe's ten provinces, would be used to build a legal case against Mugabe and the perpetrators.
Nine of the women interviewed said they were infected with HIV/AIDS as a result of the rapes, and an additional seventeen women also tested HIV-positive in the months following the rapes, raising the possibility that their rapists infected them. Ten women fell pregnant as a result of the rapes.
And 96 percent of the women testified that the men who raped them made some kind of political statement indicating they were ZANU-PF, or that they were targeting the women because of the women's MDC involvement, or both. One woman recalls: "As they raped me, they said I must join the ZANU-PF and defect from the MDC party. As this was happening, I could see and hear other women being raped around me simultaneously."
Another woman from Harare said: "As he was raping me he said that he had a sexually transmitted infection so he wanted me to die from the STI. After they raped me, they said I was going to die from the HIV virus."
Lewis said the report was the first step in seeking justice for the victims of violence in Zimbabwe and other countries where human rights violations were ongoing and they were now determined to follow up on it.
He said the organisation would canvas the Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders, African Union leaders and other key players to act against these atrocities.
"The rage enters when one realises that those who could bring an end to the madness, who have it within their power to rid Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe, to end the reign of sexual terror, to throttle the culture of impunity, to prevent the horrors of the last election from occurring again in the next election...those who have power refuse to exercise," Lewis said.
He went on to say that by refusing to take action against Mugabe, individual countries, sub-regions, entire regions and the international community were complicit in what the Zimbabwean president was doing and in crimes against humanity.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said last year that "the UN Security Council and international tribunals have clearly established that rape and other forms of sexual violence can amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity ... Perpetrators should be brought to justice if cycles of violence and brutal retribution are to be halted".
Apple echoed Pillay's words and said that although a meeting was held "quietly" with several members in the country's government of national unity, the ministers expressed their inability to deal with the crimes internally as a result of the current legal limitations within Zimbabwe. Other legal options include South African law that allows prosecution of crimes against humanity as long as the perpertrator/s set foot on South African soil, said Apple She said the region had the obligation to use other legal options.
Zimbabwean writer and human rights activist Elinor Sisulu said she found it difficult to read the report as it indicated that three or four generations of Zimbabwean women have become victims of politically motivated rape and yet impunity and lack of accountability persisted on a national and international level.
"As a human rights activist I've heard this story in various forms and the 70 women in this report are just a small percentage of women affected," Sisulu said. The black working class rural and urban populations were mostly targeted, according to Sisulu. "The working class is most vulnerable because they lack the resources to take action and they make up the voting masses."
She said it was tragic that the Global Programme of Action does not address the real issues faced by society and conflict would remain a chronic problem for the region if SADC leaders did not take it pay specific attention to it.
"... in fact the message is that these issues should be swept under the carpet in order to arrive at political agreements," Sisulu said.
The report says ZANU-PF's use of youth militia and war veterans as terror squads to intimidate and prevent MDC supporters from voting for the opposition dates back to at least 2000.
"To read the report is to weep and to be enraged simultaneously. The accounts of the rapes from the women themselves - vivid, awful, incomprehensible - make you wonder, yet again, how such things are possible at the end of the first decade of the 21st century," Lewis said.