Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. On July 30, the country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. While the pre-election period saw increased democratic space, numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s (ZEC) lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excess use of force; and lack of precision and transparency around the release of election results. On August 26, the chief justice swore in Mnangagwa as president with the constitutional authority to complete a five-year term, scheduled to end in 2023. The election resulted in the formation of a ZANU-PF-led government with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included arbitrary killings, government-targeted abductions, and arbitrary arrests; torture; harsh prison conditions; criminal libel; censorship; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; government corruption; ineffective government response towards violence against women; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct.
The government took limited steps toward potential consequences for security-sector officials and nongovernment actors who committed human rights violations, including appointing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the post-election violence. In December the COI found the military and police culpable for the deaths of six protestors, but it did not identify individual perpetrators, units, or commanders. Impunity remained a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were two reported incidents of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. On August 1, the military killed six unarmed protestors when it responded to an opposition-led election related demonstration in Harare’s central business district (CBD). A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) killed two civilians on February 22 while enforcing a ban on vendors and unlicensed taxi drivers in the CBD. Security-sector forces participated in political violence in the post-election period during the month of August. Security-sector impunity for politically motivated abuses remained a problem.
Impunity for past politically motivated violence also remained a problem. Investigations continued of prior years’ cases of violence resulting in death committed by security forces and ZANU-PF supporters, but by year’s end there were no arrests or charges in these cases.
Unwillingness to acknowledge past atrocities or seek justice for victims continued to affect relations between the Shona and Ndebele ethnic groups negatively.
There were no reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but government officials failed to do so. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were reports security forces engaged in such practices with impunity and with the implicit support of officials affiliated with the government. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces assaulted and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assault on and torture of perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year, police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects. In some cases police arrested and charged the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. Political opponents of President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated security forces arrested, detained, and tortured them after the July 30 election.
Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture. Reported torture methods included beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, sjamboks (a heavy whip), and falanga (beating the soles of the feet).
According to one NGO, from January through August, 367 victims of organized violence and torture sought medical treatment and counseling after sustaining injuries in multiple incidents across the country. The NGO reported ZANU-PF supporters committed 35 percent of the violations, ZRP committed 31 percent, and the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) committed 22 percent. Nearly 39 percent of the cases occurred in the capital, Harare. The majority of victims, more than 51 percent, associated themselves with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance. More than 39 percent did not indicate their political affiliation. The other roughly 10 percent were associated with other smaller independent political parties.
From August 1 to 7, uniformed soldiers systematically assaulted civilians in the Harare CBD and suburbs of Chitungwiza, Highfield, Kuwadzana, Seke, and Warren Park, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and local NGOs. The soldiers accused many of the victims of participating in the August 1 opposition-led protests.
There were also reports of short-term abductions during this same period during which victims were abused. Victims in several Harare suburbs reported assaults and hours-long interrogations in remote locations regarding opposition members’ whereabouts. For example, according to NGO and local news accounts, plain-clothed state security agents abducted MDC Alliance Information and Public Secretary Simbarashe Mujeye and his brother from their Chitungwiza home on August 2. Mujeye claimed the agents handcuffed and beat him while demanding to know the whereabouts of senior MDC leaders. The men then took Mujeye to Harare Central Police station on charges of inciting public violence related to the August 1 protests.
According to a local NGO, from January to June, 23 victims of organized violence and torture sought assistance after security agents found them mining illegally at the Chiadzwa diamond mine in Manicaland Province. Victims reported security forces detained them at torture bases, beat them with sticks, kicked them, and sometimes allowed security dogs to attack them.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh due to financial constraints and overcrowding in some of the older facilities. The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) struggled to provide adequate food and sanitary conditions and worked with community organizations to help address these issues. The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities. The ZPCS provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities, as well as allows churches and other organizations to teach life skills training.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were often harsh. There were approximately 17,000 prisoners, spread across 46 main prisons and 26 satellite prisons. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported that overcrowding continued, due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs. In March President Mnangagwa granted amnesty to approximately 3,000 prisoners, including most women and all juveniles, to address overcrowding.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported that the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic. Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs have observed during the past several years.
NGOs reported female prisoners generally fared better than did male prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided women guards. Women generally received more food from their families than did male prisoners. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. NGOs were unaware of women inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed some supplies such as sanitary pads for women. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.
There was one juvenile prison housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys when left together. Authorities generally sent juveniles to prison rather than to reformatory homes as stipulated in the law, as there is only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles remained vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners.
Prisoners with mental health issues were often held together with regular prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.
According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions.
According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. Prisoners identified as malnourished received additional meals. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison.
Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses thrived in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.
Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. Due to financial constraints, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.
Administration: The inspections and audit unit of the ZPCS, intended to assess prison conditions and improve monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of such assessments. The ZHRC continued to conduct monitoring visits. There was no prison ombudsman, but there were statutory mechanisms to allow alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Prisoners and detainees had relatively unrestricted access to visitors, except in maximum-security prisons, where remoteness hampered access by prisoners’ relatives. The ZPCS afforded prisoners the opportunity to practice their chosen religion. NGOs reported prisoners had sufficient access to chaplains and most prisons offered minority religious services as well.
Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. All organizations working in prisons reported that meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weakened these prohibitions. The government enforced security laws in conflict with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested large numbers of persons during antigovernment protests.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The constitution provides for a National Security Council (NSC) composed of the president, vice president, and selected ministers and members of the security services. The NSC never met, however. Instead, the Joint Operations Command, an informal administrative body, discharged the functions of the NSC at national, provincial, and district levels. All security-sector chiefs reported directly to the president, who is the commander in chief of all security services.
The ZRP is responsible for maintaining internal law and order. The Department of Immigration and the ZRP, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although the ZRP is officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some ZRP roles and missions in response to civil unrest. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces under the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes deployed them as a back-up to police as a show of force. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the Vice President, is responsible for internal and external security.
The military-assisted government transition in November 2017 weakened the ZRP as an institution. In January the government forcibly retired 11 senior ZRP officials and reassigned dozens more in March.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, neither did the government have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. For example, the government has not held accountable the ZRP officers who killed two civilians during a protest in Harare on February 22. Likewise, the government has not established an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law stipulates that arrests require a warrant issued by a court or senior police officer and that police inform an arrested person of the charges before taking the individual into custody. Police did not always respect these rights. The law requires authorities to inform a person at the time of arrest of the reason for the arrest. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.
The law provides for bail for most accused persons. In 2015 the Constitutional Court declared section 121(3) of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act unconstitutional. According to human rights attorneys, it allowed prosecutors to veto bail decisions made by the courts and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days based on the prosecution’s stated intent to appeal bail. Despite the Constitutional Court ruling against section 121(3), the government amended the law by including provisions that allow prosecutors a veto over judicial bail decisions. Prosecutors relied on the provisions to extend the detention of opposition political activists.
Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. An indigent detainee may apply to the government for an attorney in criminal cases, but these requests only apply in capital cases. This occurred with cases involving opposition party members, civil society activists, and ordinary citizens.
The government also monitored, harassed, and intimidated human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients.
On August 8, former finance minister and senior MDC Alliance official Tendai Biti was detained trying to flee Zimbabwe via Zambia and forcibly returned to Harare. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) claimed police denied Biti access to legal counsel. Biti was subsequently charged with inciting post-election violence and unlawfully announcing election results. On December 14, a magistrate dropped the incitement of violence charge. His trial for violating electoral law continued at year’s end. Additionally, ZLHR claimed police assaulted Biti’s lawyer and deliberately prevented him from accompanying Biti to Harare Central Police station on August 9.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. There were NGO and media reports that security forces arbitrarily arrested political and civil society activists and then released them without charge. On July 13, police arbitrarily arrested three MDC Alliance members when they attempted to observe postal voting at a police camp in Mutare citing trespassing and violation of the electoral act. A magistrate later declined to charge them. Similarly, prosecutors declined to charge three Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) members in Gweru who police arrested for demonstrating against government economic measures on October 11.
The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued that they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests. In April 2017, however, a High Court judge ruled that officials could be sued, especially if they acted unlawfully. The case related to the abduction and torture of human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who was held incommunicado by state security officials for 21 days in 2008. On October 5, the High Court ordered the state to pay Mukoko $150,000 in damages.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was limited for nonpolitical prisoners. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, the low capacity of court officials, and a lack of resources. The constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects. Despite this provision, the government routinely opposed bail for political detainees.
Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail, which remained exorbitant in view of economic conditions in the country. Magistrates rarely exercised the “free bail option” that authorizes them to waive bail for destitute prisoners. Lawyers reported juveniles usually spent more time in pretrial detention than did adults because they could not attend court unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, this right was restricted. The political process continued to be heavily biased in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has dominated politics and government and manipulated electoral results since independence in 1980.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Most international and local independent observers characterized the July 30 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as largely free of violence but not meeting the mark for a free and fair election. Political parties and civil society organizations complained of widespread voter disenfranchisement, including of foreign-born and diaspora voters, and the inability to compete on a level playing field. State media coverage was heavily biased in favor of ZANU-PF and provided almost no access to or positive coverage of the opposition. There were reports of voter intimidation, including the collection of voter registration slips by party and tribal leaders in an attempt to undermine the secrecy of the vote. While the law obliges traditional chiefs to be impartial, in rural areas traditional leaders mobilized voters and canvassed support for ZANU-PF. In return traditional leaders continued to receive farms, vehicles, houses, and other benefits. Local NGOs also reported traditional leaders’ selective distribution of agricultural inputs and food aid to reward ZANU-PF supporters and punish opposition voters.
The credibility and independence of ZEC were called into question for allegedly being composed largely of personnel loyal to ZANU-PF. ZEC failed to release a finalized voter’s roll until after the nomination court announced on June 14 the 23 candidates to contest the presidency. The voter’s roll ZEC provided to the MDC Alliance and other opposition parties did not include biometric information and differed from the one used at polling stations on Election Day. ZEC allowed political party representatives a one-time viewing of the printing of presidential ballots but provided no transparency of their storage or transportation to polling stations prior to the election. Ballot papers were printed in an unbalanced layout with the names of 13 candidates in one column and nine in the next to allow Mnangagwa’s name to appear at the top of a column. On July 12, ZEC officials were present at Ross Police Camp in Bulawayo when police officers cast ballots in the presence of supervisors, but they did so without observation from opposition party polling agents in violation of the Electoral Act.
Voting on Election Day occurred peacefully, with a large voter turnout estimated at 85 percent. Most observers found ZEC-administered polling stations well run by competently trained officers. ZEC successfully accredited 1,209 foreign election observers and journalists in a timely and efficient manner. Some local observers, however, reported the accreditation process to be overly burdensome. On August 1, military personnel killed six unarmed protestors during an opposition-led election-related demonstration in Harare’s CBD. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests.
On August 3, ZEC released presidential election results, declaring incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote. Within 24 hours, ZEC provided polling station level results on CD-ROMs to stakeholders. Statistical analysis by citizen observers found ZEC’s announced presidential results to be within a credible statistical range, although the margin of error indicated a presidential runoff election was also within that range. Leading opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa challenged ZEC’s declaration of Mnangagwa as the winner. ZEC later revised Mnangagwa’s percentage of the vote to 50.6 percent in response to Chamisa’s legal challenge.
On August 22, the Constitutional Court held a hearing to review the challenge to the announced presidential election results. The court denied permits to allow four South African members of Chamisa’s legal team to argue the case. On August 24, the court unanimously determined the petition did not meet the required evidentiary standards. It declared Mnangagwa the winner of the presidential election and ruled that the petitioners had to pay the court costs of the other parties to the case.
On August 26, the chief justice inaugurated Mnangagwa. The ZANU-PF party won an exact two-thirds majority in the 270 member National Assembly but failed to garner a two-thirds majority in the 80-member Senate. The Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the Common Market for Southern and Eastern Africa declared the election free and fair.
Political Parties and Political Participation: An unprecedented number of presidential candidates (23) and political parties (55) contested the July 30 elections. Despite this opening of political space, elements within ZANU-PF and the security forces intimidated and committed abuses against other parties and their supporters and obstructed their activities. Local NGOs reported ZANU-PF youth members and war veterans threatened communities with violence if ZANU-PF candidates lost in the elections. In July police arrested ZANU-PF supporters for allegedly threatening to burn the house of United African National Council parliamentary candidate Silver Chiripanyanga in Mashonaland East province. Local NGOs also reported dozens of instances of ZANU-PF supporters removing opposition and independent parties’ campaign signs and materials in wards throughout the country. In June Build Zimbabwe Alliance party leaders posted photos of campaign posters allegedly torn by ZANU-PF supporters in Gweru.
Members of the opposition MDC Alliance also carried out acts of intimidation and committed abuses, although at a much lower rate than did ZANU-PF supporters. MDC Alliance supporters of two rival primary candidates assaulted each other in the Harare suburb of Epworth on June 2. On March 4, supporters of MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa assaulted supporters of Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) Vice President Thokozani Khupe at a party meeting in Bulawayo.
The constitution provides specific political rights for all citizens. Laws, however, are not fully consistent with the constitution and allow discrimination in voter registration to continue. For example, on May 30, the Constitutional Court ruled against amending the Electoral Act to allow up to five million members of the Zimbabwean diaspora to vote from abroad. The court, however, allowed Zimbabweans with dual citizenship to register to vote provided they presented certain identification documents.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did fully participate as voters and candidates. Women remained largely underrepresented in local and national political offices, and men overwhelmingly held most senior positions in the public sector. Female candidates faced particularly vitriolic gender-based insults regarding appearance, sexual proclivity, and other gender-based stereotypes and faced challenges within their party if running against a male candidate in a primary. Several female candidates from the MDC Alliance reported some inside the party leadership required women to have sex with them in order for their names to appear on the party candidate list. Those who refused found their names left off the list.
Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors limited the participation of women. Following the July 30 elections, women filled six of 21 cabinet minister positions, an increase from 2013, but well below their 52 percent share of the population and well below the equal representation required by the constitution. Women headed the Ministry of Defense and War Veterans and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts, and Recreation for the first time in the country’s history. Women held six of 12 minister of state positions and six of 13 deputy minister positions. Women made up 31 percent of the National Assembly and Senate, down from 34 percent in 2013. On September 12, the Senate elected a woman as president. In accordance with the constitution, female members of parliament filled all 60 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. At the local government level, women held approximately 19 percent of councilor positions nationwide.
Four female presidential candidates competed in the July 30 election: former vice president Joice Mujuru of the People’s Rainbow Coalition, former deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe of the MDC-T, Melbah Dzapasi of the #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe, and Violet Mariyacha of United Democratic Movement. NGOs noted that young women were mostly excluded from decision-making structures and processes in all political parties.
The law permits blind persons to have an individual with them to assist them in marking their ballots. The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) helped provide for handicapped accessibility at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during the July elections. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) found 97 percent of observed polling stations made adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance–including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons–to have an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. According to ZESN, 45 percent of polling stations had at least 26 assisted voters.