There are widespread reports of systematic and escalating violations of human rights in Zimbabwe under the Mugabe administration and the dominant party, the ZANU-PF.
In 2011, there were reports of 640 corpses having been recovered from the Monkey William Mine in Chibondo. They were allegedly authenticated by the Fallen Heroes Trust of Zimbabwe and the Department of National Museums and Monuments who are leading the exhumation process as victims of the Ian Smith regime during the Rhodesian Bush War. One body was identified as a ZANLA cadre, Cde Rauya, by the Fallen Heroes Trust Chief exhumer.
Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere admitted the remains were discovered in 2008, but claimed the remains were decades old despite clear evidence the exhumed skeletons still had hair and clothes. Solidarity Peace Trust said that the presence of soft tissues “is not necessarily an indicator that these bones entered the grave more recently, although it could be.”
Journalists found a body in the mine with ‘what appeared to be blood and fluids dripping onto the skulls below’. The opposition MDC called for research on all violence that included killings of its supporters during disputed elections in 2008. Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern that “international best practice on exhumations is not being adhered to … Mishandling of these mass graves has serious implications on potential exhumations of other sites in Zimbabwe. Thousands of civilians were also killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the mid 1980s and are allegedly buried in mine shafts and mass graves in these regions”, AI added.
According to human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch the government of Zimbabwe violates the rights to shelter, food, freedom of movement and residence, freedom of assembly and the protection of the law. In 2009, Gregory Stanton, then President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, stated there was “clear evidence that Mugabe government was guilty of crimes against humanity and that there was sufficient evidence of crimes against humanity to bring Mugabe to trial in front of the International Criminal Court.
Opposition gatherings are frequently the subject of brutal attacks by the police force, such as the crackdown on an 11 March 2007 Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rally and several others during the 2008 election campaign.
In the attacks of 2007, party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and 49 other opposition activists were arrested and severely beaten by the police. After his release, Morgan Tsvangirai told the BBC that he suffered head injuries and blows to the arms, knees and back, and that he lost a significant amount of blood and hundreds were killed.
Police action was strongly condemned by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the European Union and the United States. While noting that the activists had suffered injuries, but not mentioning the cause of them, the Zimbabwean state-owned daily newspaper The Herald claimed the police had intervened after demonstrators “ran amok looting shops, destroying property, mugging civilians, and assaulting police officers and innocent members of the public”. The newspaper argued that the opposition had been “willfully violating the ban on political rallies”.
There are also abuses of media rights and access. The Zimbabwean government is accused of suppressing freedom of the press and freedom of speech. It has been repeatedly accused of using the public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, as a propaganda tool. Newspapers’ critical of the government such as the Daily News, closed after bombs exploded at their offices and the government refused to renew their license. BBC News, Sky News, and CNN were banned from filming or reporting from Zimbabwe. In 2009 reporting restrictions on the BBC and CNN were lifted. Sky News continue to report on happenings within Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries like South Africa.
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces were set up by unifying three insurrectionist forces – the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), and the Rhodesian Security Forces (RSF) – after the Second Chimurenga and Zimbabwean independence in 1980. The integration period saw the formation of The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) as separate entities under the command of Rtd General Solomon Mujuru and Air Marshal Norman Walsh who retired in 1982, and was replaced by Air Marshal Azim Daudpota who handed over command to the late Rtd Air Chief Marshal Josiah Tungamirai in 1985.
In December 2003, General Constantine Chiwenga, was promoted and appointed Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. Lieutenant General P. V. Sibanda replaced him as Commander of the Army.
The ZNA currently has an-active duty strength of 30,000. The Air Force has about 5,139 standing personnel. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (includes Police Support Unit, Paramilitary Police) is part of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and numbers 25,000.
Following majority rule in early 1980, British Army trainers oversaw the integration of guerrilla fighters into a battalion structure overlaid on the existing Rhodesian armed forces. For the first year, a system was followed where the top-performing candidate became battalion commander. If he or she was from ZANLA, then his or her second-in-command was the top-performing ZIPRA candidate, and vice versa. This ensured a balance between the two movements in the command structure. From early 1981, this system was abandoned in favour of political appointments, and ZANLA and ZANU fighters consequently quickly formed the majority of battalion commanders in the ZNA.
The ZNA was originally formed into four brigades, composed of a total of 28 battalions. The brigade support units were composed almost entirely of specialists of the former Rhodesian Army, while unintegrated battalions of the Rhodesian African Rifles were assigned to the 1st, 3rd and 4th Brigades. The Fifth Brigade was formed in 1981 and disbanded in 1988 after the demonstration of mass brutality and murder during the brigade’s occupation of Matabeleland in what has become known as Gukurahundi (Shona: “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”), the campaign which finished off Mugabe’s liberation struggle. The Brigade had been re-formed by 2006, with its commander, Brigadier-General John Mupande praising its “rich history”.