JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Persistent violence by government agents and supporters is making it impossible to hold a fair presidential runoff election in Zimbabwe later this month, according to a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
In interviews with victims, the study detailed violence against opposition supporters across the country, with the creation of “no-go zones” in rural areas surrounded by roadblocks to prevent foreign journalists and human rights workers from witnessing the abuses.
The report said Zimbabwe was suffering the worst election violence in its history, overwhelmingly perpetrated by the ruling ZANU-PF party against Movement for Democratic Change activists and supporters in advance of the June 27 runoff vote.
Unless it is stopped, there is no chance of free and fair runoff elections, Human Rights Watch warned.
“Time has nearly run out for Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to make the necessary political interventions to end the violence and ensure a free and fair vote,” the report said, calling on regional powers to abandon mediation efforts with President Robert Mugabe and instead take strong action to stop the attacks.
“If current conditions are maintained, there is no possibility of a credible, free and fair poll,” the report added.
The report found at least 2,000 documented cases of beatings or torture but concluded that because many areas were inaccessible, the actual number would be much higher.
The report came as an independent medical group in Zimbabwe, the Specialist Doctors in Zimbabwe, comprising surgeons, anesthetists, physicians and pediatricians, reported that about 2,900 victims of political violence had been treated in hospitals since elections on March 29.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai received about 48 percent of the vote in the first round, according to official figures, compared with about 43 percent for longtime president Mugabe, making a runoff necessary. The opposition insists it won in the first round.
The Rights Watch report concluded that the violence is being orchestrated by the Joint Operations Command, the country’s supreme military body, which includes the chiefs of police, prison, defense and security forces.
It said ZANU-PF had set up hundreds of base camps for interrogating, beating and torturing MDC supporters.
Zimbabwean military officers handed out a bullet to every villager called to compulsory political meetings in April, in an ominous threat they should not vote for the opposition, according to the report.
“Each villager would be given a bullet to hold in their hands, then a soldier would say, ‘If you vote for the MDC in the presidential runoff election, you have seen the bullets, we have enough for each one of you, so beware,’ ” the report said.