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Rape as a weapon of war in Zimbabwe-Betty Makoni`s  public testimony 

11 years ago | 2118 Views

On May 15, 2008, Zimbabwean authorities began a campaign of terror that targets people believed to support the political opposition.  Women and girls have been subjected to a wide range of sexual violence including gang rape, beatings, torture and the threat of HIV infection.  The victims have sustained severe physical and emotional trauma and humiliation.  We are living through a plague of brutal violence directed at women and girls.  Rape is being used as a weapon of political intimidation to instill fear in us, in our families and our communities.

I am deliberately using this platform to identify the pattern of horrendous rape because, as the evidence shows, sexual violence transmits the AIDS virus. For many women it will be a grotesque double jeopardy: first a rape, then HIV/AIDS.

Youth militias have been set up that are holding whole villages hostage as they move door to door to wreak violence and humiliation. The youth militias congregate in schools and near police stations, and have set up bases from which they torture and rape women.  Young girls are forced onto the bases where an estimated 800 girls have been raped.  The most recent report of rape perpetrated by the youth militia took place on July 24.  This signifies that rape continues unabated despite ongoing talks between Zimbabwe's major political parties. 

I have a confirmed report that a 13 year old girl was abducted and exchanged for a goat.  She was detained for two or three weeks during which she was repeatedly raped.  This is a typical story that has been conveyed to me by victims.  At least 53 women and girls have stepped forward to document their cases and demand justice.  The victims have sought refuge with women's organizations.  They have been denied access to women's hospitals in Zimbabwe, despite appearing with bleeding organs and severe physical injuries.  The few doctors who agreed to see them were horrified by what they saw.  Pesticides, sticks, and other objects have been inserted in their vaginas.  During the acts of rape, the perpetrators – members of the youth militia – told the victims that "we are raping you so that you will give birth to ZANU-PF babies." 

Women have been tortured while they were being raped.  As a result, many pregnant women have suffered miscarriages, having been beaten on their buttocks and breasts.  Women also had their hands and arms cut off, hair pulled out and eyes removed, and some have been burned alive.  In this period, 120 murders of the political opposition have been reported, with 38 confirmed brutal murders of women, the youngest being a three year old child. 

Rape survivors range from 13 to 60 years old, and all are from rural areas.  Before the latest wave of violence, at least 10 girls were raped every day in Zimbabwe.  Since this campaign began, the rapes have increased 2 or 3 times.  

The women who have been raped are the wives, sisters, mothers and grandmothers of people involved with the political opposition.  They also include ward leaders for the opposition, organizers, and activists that freely campaigned in the run-up to the March 29th election.  Some are church leaders from the Anglican Church and wives of ministers and members.  Teachers, who are trained to work in coordinating elections in Zimbabwe, and polling agents are also targets of rape.  Reports state that 20,000 teachers out of 80,000 were displaced.  Other groups that suffer include female police officers, and workers of NGOs that have been abducted and have disappeared.

Many victims who have been raped by the youth militia have been displaced and cannot be located.  Of those cases that were reported, the police have not complied with the procedures for dealing with rape cases.  In Zimbabwe, rape cases are classified as Class A crimes.  But, the lack of response and action by the police is a clear testament to the fact that this is part of a state-sponsored campaign of terror.  Victims have not been given medical request forms.  Immediate medical attention is crucial for minimizing the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS.  Human rights organizations in Zimbabwe have numerous reports of women who have been ignored by the police.  Moreover, the police have not collected evidence immediately on receiving these reports of rape, nor have they sought to locate the perpetrators.  Members of the youth militia – some of whom have been convicted of crimes of looting and robbery – have not been punished for their crimes of rape.  The men who have committed these crimes belong in prison.  Without the immediate collection of evidence in a rape case – due to the nature of the physical evidence  – the evidence will disappear. 

The reality of this situation is that the women – the victims – are terrified, in tears, with broken relationships, stigmatized, and in ill health.   The psychological damage to women is extensive and irreparable.   

I was prompted to act on these cases due to the calls for urgent help that I received from these women.  The crimes were committed against the poorest women in Zimbabwe, those that cannot possibly defend themselves or seek justice.  Even now, they aren't safe; they live in rural areas and are surrounded by youth militia.   

The truth must come out, and there is nothing to hide anymore.  We must break the silence. 


First Testimony 

August 7, 2008

XVII International AIDS Conference

Mexico City

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