Zimbabwe: A trail of violence after the ballot

June 3, 2008

Zimbabwe: A trail of violence after the ballot

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is prohibited under international law, for example under Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Zimbabwe is a state party to both treaties.16


It is widely agreed that a state has violated the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment not only when a state official directly commits the act, but also when such an act is committed at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence, of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In interpreting the obligations of states under the ICCPR, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) emphasized that "[i]t is the duty of the State party to afford everyone protection through legislative and other measures as may be necessary against the acts prohibited by article 7, whether inflicted by people acting in their official capacity, outside their official capacity or in a private capacity."17


In the examples given above, even if the state security agents were performing their duties of law enforcement, Amnesty International believes that force was used disproportionately and in most instances it was unwarranted. Article 3 of the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that "(l)aw enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of duty".


Amnesty International considers that the state-sponsored violence, harassment and intimidation of voters and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe by the police and ZANU-PF supporters is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. These rights are guaranteed under Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the ICCPR, respectively.


Amnesty International also believes that the torture and other ill-treatment, including beatings, threats, harassment and intimidation of voters and human rights defenders by soldiers, police, "war veterans" and ZANU-PF supporters constitute a violation of Article 25 of the ICCPR. Under this Article the government of Zimbabwe is obliged to ensure for every citizen the right and the opportunity, without discrimination or unreasonable restrictions, to take part in the conduct of public affairs and to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.


The UN Human Rights Council has also stated that the right to participate in public affairs, recognized in Article 25 of the Covenant, "[r]equires the full enjoyment and respect for the rights guaranteed in articles 19, 21 and 22 of the Covenant, including freedom to engage in political activity individually or through political parties and other organizations, freedom to debate public affairs, to hold peaceful demonstrations and meetings, to criticize and oppose, to publish political material, to campaign for election and to advertise political ideas."18

Moreover, the HRC recognizes that the right to freedom of association "including the right to form and join organizations and associations concerned with political and public affairs" is an essential element of the rights protected by Article 25 of the ICCPR.19