Summary

  • Since the disputed presidential elections of March 2002 (the results of which are widely regarded as illegitimate), turmoil in Zimbabwe has faded from the international community's attention, even though political and humanitarian crises there continue to worsen.
  • Torture and politically motivated violence are rampant. The Mugabe government has enacted draconian laws to gag the media, restrict free speech, and discourage opposition. For example, a new law requires that any public meeting of two or more people must be authorized by police.
  • The perpetrators of torture, according to experts, include agents of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) political party, police officials, agents of the Central Intelligence Organization, and, recently, members of the pro-Mugabe youth militia, who appear to have been schooled in torture methods.
  • The country faces famine as a result of severe drought and farm seizures by the government. The World Food Program reports that 46 percent of Zimbabwe's population —more than 5 million people—face starvation.
  • The prospect of increased violence and torture looms as the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), considers organizing mass protests against Mugabe's retention of power.

About the Report

On June 25, 2002, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) convened a Current Issues Briefing entitled "Zimbabwe: The Mugabe Government and the Politics of Torture." Our principal purpose was to shed light on an issue that has drawn little attention from the media or from governments: the widespread use of torture as a political tool by President Robert Mugabe's regime. "The purpose of torture," CVT says, "is to control populations, by destroying individual leaders and frightening entire communities."

The speakers at the June 25 Current Issues Briefing were Timothy Docking, Africa specialist and program officer in the USIP's Fellowship program, who moderated the event; Douglas Johnson, director of the Center for Victims of Torture, who gave brief opening remarks; Tony Reeler, clinical director of Amani Trust; Ray Choto, Zimbabwean journalist and research fellow at Stanford University, who was tortured by agents of the Mugabe government in 1999 for refusing to reveal sources; and John Prendergast, co-director of the International Crisis Group's Africa Program.

This report was written by John Brinkley, director of public outreach at the Institute.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.

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