President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is under withering pressure to immediately withdraw troops deployed across large swathes of urban areas following protests over fuel price hikes.
This comes as soldiers are being accused of viciously beating up residents in high density suburbs and continuing to carry out attacks on selected targets.
The crackdown has largely targeted high density suburbs in the capital Harare and the second city of Bulawayo in what is being seen as a bid to instil fear in communities, imposing their control over the ghettos and as a form of punishment, rights groups have said.
National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) — a non-party political, non-profit making organisation and non-denominational coordinating body of over 1 000 NGOs in Zimbabwe — pleaded with government to remove the soldiers saying their heavy-handedness has led to injuries, deaths and in some cases rape.
Soldiers and police have allegedly raped and sexually assaulted dozens of women and girls in a campaign to punish urban communities for the fuel hike protests that turned violent — acts that constitute crimes against humanity.
“We are still concerned with the continued presence of soldiers within communities and demand that soldiers immediately go back to the barracks and police play their role of protecting and serving citizens,” Nango said.
Mnangagwa, who was forced to cut short his crucial visit to Europe and central Asia to drum up investment to attend to the festering crisis back home, has denounced the continuing violence as absolutely “unacceptable”.
He tweeted that violence or misconduct by the country’s security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the “new Zimbabwe”, and shall be investigated.
Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema said the rights violations are being probed.
Nango slammed what it called “the use of the army in fighting political battles”, suggesting that soldiers should stick to protecting civilians.
“In the same vein, we condemn the law enforcement agents that exude a semblance of being political. Law enforcement agents should at all times stick to their constitutional mandate. We therefore demand that political parties should refrain from giving instructions to enforcement agents,” Nango added.
Nango also condemned the wanton attacks and abductions of civilians and has demanded an immediate end to abuses to ensure citizens’ security.
Innocent members of the public allegedly suffered injuries from assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, batons, sjamboks and tarmac abrasions as the security forces were hunting down protesters.
State rights body Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), significantly, has also castigated use of the military in the repression.
“It is therefore disturbing to note that the deployment of the army in quelling civilian disturbances leads to loss of life and serious bodily injuries and other human rights violations, yet the government continues to make such deployments,” ZHRC commissioner Sheila Hillary Matindike said.
Amnesty International on Friday called on Zimbabwean authorities to act swiftly to ensure security forces are held to account for ongoing brutal human rights violations, including rape, torture, beatings and killings of civilians.
“The onslaught by the security forces in Zimbabwe has seen people killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, reportedly raped and jailed on suspicion of taking part in the protests. Children as young as 11 years old have also been charged,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa.
“The Zimbabwean authorities must immediately halt their menacing threats towards civil society leaders, activists, opposition leaders and suspected organisers of protests. The authorities must ensure that those who violated and continue to violate human rights face justice.”
This comes as the international community has called on government to put a stop to the crackdown which has seen soldiers sexually assaulting women in some parts of Harare.
The British State minister for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Harriet Baldwin has expressed her disgust over the rape reports and has called on Mnangagwa to investigate the issue.
“I’m sickened at reports that Zimbabwe’s security forces have raped civilians during their violent crackdowns. Sexual violence is an atrocity and who is commanding these forces? The UK urges Mnangagwa to ensure these perpetrators are brought to justice,” Baldwin said.
Nelson Chamisa’s opposition MDC Alliance said in a statement last weekend it was shocked by the surge in allegations of State-sponsored rape cases and harassment of the victims.
“Some of the women who were interviewed were followed, brutalised and arrested,” Bekithemba Mpofu, the MDC deputy national spokesperson, said.