The United Nations (UN) has been slammed for its silence on Zimbabwe and the campaign of politically motivated rape, unleashed by Robert Mugabe's supporters during election periods.
Stephen Lewis, the co-director of the international advocacy group AIDS-Free World, last week called the UN out over this silence, calling it ‘unforgivable' that the plight of Zimbabwe's rape victims was being ignored. Speaking on International Women's Day last week at the UN Human Rights Council, Lewis questioned what hold Mugabe has over the UN, that Zimbabwe was left off a ‘Name and Shame' list of serious sexual violence during elections in different countries.
This list was the result of a UN resolution adopted in 2010, which has aimed to correct years of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence and rape around the world. The document has been lauded as one that could change the course of history for the world's women, by naming and shaming the countries leaders and where possible, the perpetrators of such attacks.
But, as AIDS-Free World's Lewis discovered when the list was released in January, there was a glaring omission in that Zimbabwe was not mentioned at all.
In December 2009, AIDS-Free World released a shocking report detailing the systematic and widespread attacks on MDC members and supporters in the 2008 election period in Zimbabwe. The group said their report contains enough evidence to warrant the prosecution of Mugabe and other top ZANU PF officials for their complicity in the attacks, saying they are guilty of crimes against humanity.
The report, “Electing to rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe's Zimbabwe” detailed the testimonies of 70 survivors of the rape campaign. The women, whose identifies have been kept strictly confidential for security reasons, spoke of extreme acts of brutality. Some women were forced to watch the rape of their daughters and brutal murders of their husbands and other family members before or after they themselves were raped, often by groups of men. Several other women were held as sexual slaves at ZANU PF base camps for up to two weeks.
AIDS-Free World's report explained how in all the attacks the rapes were committed against women solely because they directly or indirectly supported the MDC. At the same time, all the perpetrators of the attacks identified themselves to their victims as being members of ZANU PF. These details clearly fell in line with the UN's ‘name and shame' resolution, which includes “Sexual Violence in the context of elections, political strife and civil unrest.”
But these details and the severity of the rape attacks appear to have been ignored by the UN, sparking anger from AIDS-Free World, which is trying to launch a legal challenge on the contents of their report.
The group's Lewis told SW Radio Africa's Diaspora Diaries series on Tuesday that he was shocked that Zimbabwe did not feature on this list. He explained that countries that suffered election related rape attacks such as Kenya and Guinea were mentioned, despite Zimbabwe having a worse record.
“Zimbabwe exceeds them all because this is a pattern that began in the 80s. So the number of people who have been victims of this kind of rape and violence certainly hugely exceeds other countries in that list,” Lewis said.
Referring to Mugabe as a “crazed politician” who has used sexual violence and rape as part of his “strategy in his political apparatus” since the 80s, Lewis said it is a “startling omission” that he is not being ‘named and shamed' by the UN.
“I really can't understand why this is. But mostly I think it is because of South Africa and because of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma and their refusal to move in and stop Mugabe,” Lewis said.
Lewis meanwhile had serious warnings that any fresh election in Zimbabwe will once again be accompanied by a rape campaign against ZANU PF's opposition, unless the international community intervenes.
“It is undoubtedly going to happen again. In fact it is not a question of ‘if', it is a certainty,” Lewis said.
AIDS-Free World is using its rape dossier to launch a legal challenge in South Africa in May, with the case set to be filed before the National Prosecuting Authority. Lewis explained this is the start of a wider campaign to end the cycle of impunity in Zimbabwe.