Human Rights Violations and torture in Zim during 2008

The Liberation War

Torture during the Liberation War of the 1970s was documented at the time by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace [CCJP], and more extensively documented, and corroborated, much later by the Amani Trust. In a series of publications5, CCJP demonstrated the widespread use of torture by the Rhodesian security forces, but this work was discontinued in the face of severe government pressure and the passing of formal impunity, by the notorious Indemnity and Compensation Act, which vitiated all attempts by CCJP to use the legal system to prevent torture and obtain redress for the victims.

Most of this work was concentrated on the violations inflicted by the security forces of the illegal Rhodesian government, but subsequent work by the Amani Trust demonstrated that the guerrilla forces were not exempt from such accusations6. However, the Amani work did give an indication of the comparative rates of abuse of the various military forces, and, in the sample described and assessed, 90% of the survivors reported their torture occurred at the hands of the Rhodesian security forces. The Amani Trust, in a series of small epidemiological studies of torture in Mashonaland Central Province – one of the worst affected areas during the Liberation War – estimated that one adult in ten over the age of thirty was a survivor of torture7.

It is worth commenting though that many of the victims of guerrilla torture were also executed, and hence it is probable that the sample is skewed in favour of survivors. Of course, the Amani data deals only with survivors, and does not reflect the numbers of people that were killed by the Rhodesian security forces in “counter-terrorism” actions, which also included a number of large massacres in Mozambique and Zambia. It can be credibly asserted that a strong case could be made for war crimes having been committed by both sides during this conflict.

Nonetheless, all of these atrocities did occur during a time of obvious war, and a short and bloody war. By the end of hostilities, it is estimated that 60,000 people had lost their lives, more than 750,000 had been displaced from their homes in the country side to “protected villages”, an equivalent number had been turned into refugees (mostly in Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia), and 100,000 had been injured. Whilst the existence of a state of war might explain these horrors, it does not of courseit does not of course excuse them, but neither reason can be invoked as explaining the next epidemic of violence, the Gukurahundi of the 1980s.

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