Rights group: Zimbabwe impunity fueling violence
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 9:28 AM
JOHANNESBURG -- Every day in Zimbabwe, Tendai has to see the people who killed his parents more than two years ago. They live in his neighborhood and have gone unpunished.
James lives next door to one of the four people who beat his parents to death in July 2008, at the height of state-sponsored election violence in the southern African country.
Today, amid reports of renewed attacks as Zimbabwe plans for elections, both men say they are receiving death threats from their parents' killers.
"We now live in perpetual fear," Tendai told New York-based Human Rights Watch, which released a report Tuesday warning that the country faces a "crisis of impunity" that has festered for decades and only encourages the killings, torture and beatings that have been allowed to go unpunished. Police refuse to act on complaints and judges are co-opted or threatened and attacked, the report said.
Tiseke Kasambala, a senior researcher for the rights group, told reporters the climate prohibited holding the elections sought by President Robert Mugabe, the ruler for 31 years.
"If reforms are not instituted, then we say that there must be no elections in Zimbabwe," Kasambala said.
She said the president of South Africa, landlocked Zimbabwe's powerful neighbor, and other leaders in the Southern African Development Community should make that clear to Mugabe, and strongly condemn the renewed attacks and detentions.
Kasambala said the regional body's reaction made them "look bad," especially when compared the firm stand taken by the Economic Community of West African States in Ivory Coast, which has declared an opposition leader the winner of disputed elections and is demanding the incumbent step down.
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is widely believed to have won 2008 elections against Mugabe. But pressure from some Southern African leaders compelled him to form a government of national unity with Mugabe, when international condemnation failed to end an onslaught of state violence after the poll.
At the time, Human Rights Watch documented cases showing Mugabe's government was responsible "at the highest levels" for widespread and systematic abuses that led to the killing of up to 200 people, the beating and torture of 5,000 more, and the displacement of about 36,000 people.
Tuesday's report said government agencies including police, themselves implicated in the attacks, have failed to investigate hundreds of legal complaints filed by individuals, victims' families, rights groups and Tsvangirai's party.
"It's a painful experience knowing that our neighbors who we see every day were the perpetrators. I feel angry," said the report, quoting Tendai who, like James, is not further identified for fear of reprisals. "The perpetrators have made it clear at their rallies that at the next elections they will do it again because they didn't get arrested."