Evidence of Serious Human Rights Abuses May be Lost in Zimbabwe as Bodies in Mass Grave Are Exhumed Improperly

Press Release
April 6, 2011

Evidence of Serious Human Rights Abuses May be Lost in Zimbabwe as Bodies in Mass Grave Are Exhumed Improperly

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

Evidence of Serious Human Rights Abuses May be Lost in Zimbabwe as Bodies in Mass Grave Are Exhumed Improperly, Says Amnesty International

The Bodies Found May Have Been Those of People Killed During War of Independence

(New York) – Amnesty International is urging Zimbabwe’s authorities to turn to experts for help in exhuming hundreds of  bodies found in a mass grave, possibly dating to the war of independence in the 1970s, so victims can be properly identified and the remains returned to family members.  The organization warned that mishandling the grave site could also destroy evidence of serious human rights abuses.
 
Bodies recently discovered in the Mount Darwin area in northern Zimbabwe have been shown on Zimbabwean television being bundled into plastic bags and old sacks to await re-burial, increasing the risk that evidence of serious human rights violations could be lost.

“This is a crime scene and exhumations require professional forensic expertise to enable adequate identification, determination of cause of death and criminal investigations,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

”If the Zimbabwe government does not have the capacity to undertake these exhumations properly it must ask for international co-operation and assistance to ensure that forensic experts can undertake the exhumations.”

The state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Television (ZBC-TV) has reported the exhumations of hundreds of bodies from a site in Monkey William Mine/Chibondo Mine in Mt. Darwin district.

ZBC-TV claimed the bodies are those of people killed by the Rhodesian forces in the 1970s during the country’s war of independence.

”Families of the victims expect the bodies to be identified and to be given decent burials in line with traditional and religious practice,” said Kagari. “As such, these bodies cannot simply be consigned to history without proper forensic tests to determine who they are and how and why they died.”

Exhumations were initially carried out by members of the Fallen Heroes Trust, a group linked to President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, before government officials took over.  

On March 27, the co-Minister of Home Affairs Mr Kembo Mohadi told ZBC-TV that the government was taking over the exhumations from the Fallen Heroes Trust.  

However, given the scale of human remains discovered so far and the failings of the government to immediately secure the site, Amnesty International is concerned that international best practice on exhumations is not being adhered to.

“The Zimbabwe government must ensure that exhumations are professionally conducted according to international standards to properly establish cause of death, ensure proper identification and, where possible, to return remains to family members,” said Kagari.

Mishandling these mass graves has serious implications for 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.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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