Joint Press Statement On State Terror after the January 2019 Stay-away: Women Demand Justice

Justice for Women Zimbabwe (JWZ), Female Prisoners Support Trust (FEMPRIST) and Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) note with concern and anguish the gross human rights violations by the Zimbabwe Government and state security agents, particularly the rights of women.

During and after the 14-16 January 2019 national shutdown Zimbabwean security forces were deployed to undertake a nationwide door to door brutal crackdown on all citizens. The national shutdown protests were a direct result of the deteriorating socio-economic conditions and the announcement of the fuel price hike by President ED Mnangagwa on 12 January 2019. The fuel price hike came on the back of austerity measures underlined by a huge tax burden on citizens, high inflation and shortages of so basic commodities and medicines.

For the State to then respond by means of a full scale operation was irresponsible as it was irrational. Further, it is saddening that since the August 01 shootings, it seems it has become Government policy to use military force on citizens airing out genuine grievances.

It apparent that women are soft targets in the course of these State sanctioned orgies of violence and lawlessness. This hostile and violent environment is part of the major reasons that inhibit women from actively participating in political and governance processes.

The events that took place during the shutdown saw the use of live ammunition by the police and military leading to injuries and loss of life. Close to 100 women were arbitrarily arrested and brutally tortured countrywide including young girls. They were then denied due process by the courts which are clearly working under the political direction of executive to effective deny justice to anyone arrested in the dragnet arrests of the last two weeks. Many women are detained in jails, across the country with 50 alone being detained at Chikurubi Female Prison and others are being convicted in fast track kangaroo trials. So far two young women who are sisters have been convicted of arson and sentenced to 5 years each in a trial that resembles a charade and a mockery of due process of the law. It is shocking that some of the Magistrates involved in this travesty of justice are women, we expect them to know better.

The gravest violation aside the cold blooded murder of citizens is the sexual assault and rape of women during the crackdown. So far 17 women have come forward to seek medical and psycho-social support following rape by armed security agents. We believe there are still many affected who are afraid to come out and we are calling upon them to come forward and seek assistance from organizations like the Adult Rape Clinic, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Msasa Project, WALPE, JSW, FemPrist.

It is also sad to note that there are people who want to distort the narrative and discredit the victims of sexual assault but we assure those responsible that the voices of women are going to shake the walls of this nation and they are going to be heard. We will ensure that the experiences of women during the shutdown particularly the torture in the hands of the army are not going to be lost in political conversations until justice prevails.

We are also worried that the justice system may be fast tracking cases as we learnt upon visiting Chikurubi on Sunday 27 January that two young women who are sisters and from Kuwadzana, Harare have already been convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison each.

We further remind the Government of Zimbabwe and the Courts that mass rape by the military and security forces constitute crimes against humanity hence Zimbabwe must act decisively or otherwise victims will seek remedy and justice in the international legal system.

Our Demands:

1) We demand that an independent complaints mechanism as provided for by Section 210 of the constitution be set up to provide mechanisms for citizens to lodge complaints against members of the security force as citizens have no trust in the police as some of them were perpetrators. 

2) We demand the prosecution of all the perpetrators without fear or favour and that they are all barred from ever working in the security sector.

3) We also call upon the police and the army to allow civil society organizations to freely engage the affected communities through carrying out robust public awareness exercises encouraging women to come out and seek treatment as well as to provide psycho-social support to victims.

4) We are also calling for a lasting solution to the problems bedevilling the country and an inclusive dialogue process is a step in the right direction involving all stakeholders ie the church, civil society organizations, political parties, the business, people with disabilities, various groupings of citizens and most importantly women as they carry the face of poverty in this country and are naturally good mediators.

5) We further demand that the Government of Zimbabwe take up the recommendations of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission which were accurate and bold on what transpired and what must be done. Attempts to meander and suppress the report by denouncing the commission as we are witnessing from various government officials is unacceptable.

On behalf of WALPE and JWZ i would like to thank all Zimbabweans at home and abroad, regional and international activists for heeding our appeal to wear black today as a form of protest against all forms of violence being perpetrated by the security forces on women in the country.

May the souls of our sisters and all who died rest in peace. We also wish all women and girls nursing injuries a quick recovery.