Today in Johannesburg, South Africa, AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization co-directed by Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan, released a groundbreaking report on sexual violence in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. SLF volunteer and freelance journalist Nicole Kallmeyer attended the launch. Here is her report:
On a bright summer’s day in Johannesburg, Stephen Lewis revealed another dark truth about Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party’s acts of intimidation and terror during the 2008 presidential elections.
Representing international AIDS advocacy organization, AIDS-Free World, Mr. Lewis joined a panel of experts to release a report titled Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Based on testimonies from 70 Zimbabwean women, the report concludes that men and youth affiliated with ZANU-PF committed widespread and systematic rape to terrorize women supporting Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.
“To read the report is to weep and to be enraged simultaneously,” Mr. Lewis said, sitting alongside Elinor Sisulu, a Zimbabwean writer, human rights activist and political analyst; Betsy Apple, the legal director and general counsel of AIDS-Free World; and Paula Akugizibwe, an employee of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa.
Ms. Akugizibwe discussed the transmission of HIV during these acts of sexual violence. Twenty-six of the women interviewed (37%) tested HIV-positive after being raped, she said. Furthermore, some perpetrators announced they were intentionally infecting women. “We have hurt you. So go get tested because we have given you the prize for what you are doing,” said one rapist to his 27-year-old victim.
According to the report, “Rape in Zimbabwe, with its high HIV prevalence rates [15%] and decimated medical infrastructure, is a death sentence for many women there.”
Mr. Lewis spoke passionately about the need to eradicate impunity and institute justice. Since the majority of Zimbabwe’s public prosecutors, magistrates and judges are connected to ZANU-PF, local prosecutions against the perpetrators are unlikely. In addition, Zimbabwe’s domestic rape laws are insufficient to address the coordinated, politically-charged attacks committed.
But, the African governments and leaders can and must act, Mr. Lewis urged. High-level commanders can be tried in the courts of other African countries under the principal of universal jurisdiction, and regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community and the African Union can publicly condemn ZANU-PF’s crimes and garner attention from the United Nations.
“Zimbabwe violates every international human rights convention it has ratified and is never brought to account,” Mr. Lewis said. “The strategy of sexual violence applied politically, amounting to crimes against humanity, should be the final straw that breaks the back of world paralysis.”