BY SILAS NKALA
THE Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (Walpe) has petitioned the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) to investigate reports of rampant abuse of women and children during last month’s crackdown against protests over fuel price hikes.
The human rights group in the petition, which was also copied to the United Nations, African Union, Sadc Gender Commission and ministries of Justice, Defence and Home Affairs, called for the end of attacks on women and children and prosecution of violators.
“We, the undersigned organisations, are concerned about the abuse of women by security forces that are deployed across the country,” Walpe said in the petition.
“We are worried about the lack of secure, safe and sensitive mechanisms to handle the rape and abuse of women by security forces and determined to ensure justice for the victims of rape and other abuses.”
Walpe said the deployment of armed soldiers, police and intelligence agents in residential areas on January 14 turned out to be a premeditated clampdown on residents of major cities and towns, where the protests against rising cost of living had occurred.
“The security forces went door-to-door, torturing and assaulting people. Some of these abuses were noted by the ZHRC in its report,” Walpe said.
“Women were not spared in these large-scale human rights violations by security forces. Dozens of women were raped and sexually assaulted by members of the army. Hundreds of women were also arbitrarily arrested and arraigned in fast-track trials that disregarded all their rights. To date, two women have been convicted on charges of public violence in trials that were rushed without following proper trial procedures.”
The organisation said government had not made any steps to address the problem and, instead, was accusing the victims of rape and other abuses of lying.
“This shows that the State is bent on covering up the atrocities. It is inconceivable that the police asks the victims of police and army brutality to report to the police so that the police (perpetrators) can arrest the perpetrators,” the women’s rights group said.
“We, the petitioners, demand that the ZHRC and ZGC carry out investigations into the issues of rape and abuse of women and children by the security forces. This investigation should also look into the denial of the right to a fair trial for women facing charges related to the shutdown protests.”
The petition said ZHRC and ZGC should provide a safe and secure platform for women organisations to submit evidence of the crimes committed by the security forces.
Walpe said independent commissions that support democracy must call for the immediate withdrawal of soldiers from residential areas and streets.
The organisation demanded that the commissions push for justice for the victims of the military crackdown, including demanding the arrest of all perpetrators, provision of reparation and compensation by the government to families who lost their loved ones.
“All perpetrators should be held to account and barred from working in the security sector,” Walpe said.
“The ZHRC and ZGC should push for the immediate setting up of an independent complaints mechanism in terms of section 210 of the Constitution, which allows members of the public to lodge complaints against members of the security sector.”