Rape was political weapon, report says
Violence against foes of Zimbabwe president decried
JOHANNESBURG - Supporters of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe used rape to terrorize the political opposition during last year’s contested elections, international human rights activists said yesterday.
AIDS-Free World, led by former UNAIDS envoy Stephen Lewis, released a 64-page report that documents 380 rapes it said were committed by Mugabe loyalists.
Some 70 women linked to Zimbabwe’s opposition detailed to the group how they were raped, kept as sex slaves, and forced to watch their daughters being raped. Ten became pregnant, and many believe they were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
“These women were raped because they were politically defiant,’’ said Betsy Apple, the organization’s legal director. “It was meant to punish them and their communities.’’
Efforts to get comment from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party were not successful yesterday.
Groups monitoring the March 2008 elections reported scores of deaths and thousands of illegal arrests, assaults, and rapes by militias operating in cities and out of countryside camps. Election officials declared a runoff was necessary after the vote, but opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out, citing attacks against his supporters. Mugabe, later declared the winner, formed a unity government in February, with Tsvangirai as prime minister. Many fear the coalition will collapse, however.
“The politically orchestrated and systematic campaign of sexual violence unleashed against women who supported the opposition carves yet another chapter in the annals of Robert Mugabe’s legacy of depravity,’’ Lewis said. The rapes documented by Lewis’s organization began in 2007 but increased dramatically in 2008.
All of the women said their rapists were clearly identifiable as ZANU-PF supporters. Many arrived at the women’s homes late at night wearing party T-shirts or singing party songs.
“When the 10th man finished raping me they said they were going to rape my daughter . . . My daughter was 5 years old,’’ one woman told interviewers.
Activists are calling on the international community to help ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. The group fears the victims’ stories will be lost as the world throws support behind the unity government.