Geneva — Expressing “grave alarm”, UN human rights experts have called on Zimbabwe to immediately end a reported pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent.
The urgent call came after three female opposition activists – member of parliament Joanna Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – were stopped at a police checkpoint in Harare and subsequently abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted.
The three women were to participate in a peaceful protest organized on May 13 by the Alliance Youth Assembly of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change.
After almost 48 hours, the three women were dumped in a marketplace. They were immediately hospitalized to be treated for the injuries they sustained while they were abducted.
A few days later, they were charged with violating COVID-19 regulations on public gatherings and for purportedly intending to promote public violence and breach of peace.
“The charges against the three women should be dropped,” the experts said.
“Targeting peaceful dissidents, including youth leaders, in direct retaliation for the exercise of their freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression is a serious violation of human rights law.”
In its 2020 report for Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said, “Despite President Emerson Mnangagwa repeatedly voicing his commitments to human rights reforms, Zimbabwe remained highly intolerant of basic rights, peaceful dissent, and free expression in 2019.”
The experts called on the authorities of Zimbabwe to “urgently prosecute and punish the perpetrators of this outrageous crime, and to immediately enforce a policy of zero tolerance for abductions and torture throughout the country”.
They call for the Zimbabwean authorities also to ensure the effective protection of women against sexual violence, and to bring those responsible to account.
The experts expressed grave alarm over concerns this was not an isolated instance.
They said that in 2019 alone, 49 cases of abductions and torture were reported in Zimbabwe, without investigations leading to perpetrators being held to account.
“Enforced disappearances of women often involve sexual violence, and even forced impregnation, with enormous harm inflicted not only on their physical health and integrity, but also in terms of the resulting psychological damage, social stigma and disruption of family structures,” the experts said.
“Under the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, which includes enforced disappearance and violence against women, Zimbabwe must take all measures in its power to prevent such abuse, to investigate suspected violations, and to bring any perpetrators to justice,” the experts said.
They also urged the government to allow official visits of UN human rights experts with a view to assessing the human rights situation in the country.
The experts were: Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Tae-Ung Baik (Vice Chair), Bernard Duhaime, Ms. Houria Es-Slami, and Henrikas Mickevičius; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. Special Procedures is the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system.