By Tatenda Chitagu
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has challenged President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to bring to book rogue soldiers who killed 17 protestors and allegedly raped several women during the riots sparked by the January 150% fuel price hike.
In a report released on Tuesday titled Zimbabwe: Excessive Force Used Against Protestors, HRW said government should stop ongoing abuses and release people detained arbitrarily.
“The authorities should arrest and prosecute those responsible for abuses and send a strong message that crimes by the security forces won’t be tolerated,” Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said.
The report condemned the continued crackdown on civil society and opposition leaders and said the State should, instead, address the underlying causes of the protests to avoid the situation getting out of control.
HRW interviewed 45 victims of abuses and their family members, witnesses, activists, medical personnel, lawyers, police officers, and others in Harare, Epworth, and Chitungwiza in February.
The report chides law enforcement officials for using live ammunition on protesters.
“Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except to protect against the imminent threat of death or serious injury,” it said.
According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission findings on the violence, law enforcement agents seemed to “resort to (the) use of brute, excessive and disproportionate force in most circumstances, thereby causing avoidable loss of life and also worsening the situation”.
HRW urged African leaders “to impress upon Mnangagwa on the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the violence”.
“Southern Africa leaders should press Mnangagwa to put an end to security force abuses and ensure those responsible are brought to justice. Instead of burying his head in the sand when it comes to human rights, (South Africa) President (Cyril) Ramaphosa should publicly urge his Zimbabwean counterpart to deliver on his promise to get to the bottom of these allegations and hold perpetrators to account”, Mavhinga said.
HRW documented the cases of 14 men and three women killed by security forces between January 14 and February 5. It says 14 of those died from gunfire, while three died from injuries sustained following severe beatings.
Most of those killed were from Epworth, Chitungwiza, and Harare’s Mbare and Warren Park suburbs.