Report says Robert Mugabe organized mass rapes

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"Ironically, among the few men who have stopped to analyze the unique, destabilizing power of rape are those who use it as a strategy . . . to control civilian populations and maintain power," says the study by Aids-Free World, a New York-based advocacy group that is co-led by Canadian activist and former politician Stephen Lewis.

"Mugabe . . . understands gender; he understands rape. He understands impunity."

Titled Electing to Rape, the 65-page report draws on testimony from 70 survivors of what it concludes was an "orchestrated campaign of rape and torture" by youth militia, liberation war veterans and others working for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party over five months ahead of the June 2008 presidential election.

"Striking patterns occurred throughout the testimonies . . . and cannot be coincidental," says the report, which Lewis and others will release in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to the study, 18 of the female victims held positions as officers within the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party. Another 47 described themselves as "active" members because they volunteered for the party’s campaigning activities. Thirty of the women also had spouses, parents or other relatives who held significant MDC positions.

"Women . . . affiliated with MDC were abducted, beaten and gang-raped . . . and they were told exactly why it is happening to them," the report says.

"These were not random acts of rape and violence."

Violence against MDC supporters led the party’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to bow out of a run-off election — even though he had edged out Mugabe in the first round.

While the violence was widely reported at the time, the new study offers some of the strongest evidence yet that Mugabe’s regime systematically utilized rape as an intimidation measure.

In the last decade, rape has come to be viewed as a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread attack.

While discounting that Zimbabwe itself can credibly investigate the rapes, the report is subliminally critical of South Africa, which has long been reluctant to definitively rein in Mugabe, once one of the continent’s revered liberation leaders.

South Africa is the only country in the region that has, as a signatory to the UN’s war crimes court treaty, also passed "universal jurisdiction" laws that permit prosecution for war crimes committed elsewhere.

"That the national prosecuting authority has declined thus far to investigate allegations of torture in Zimbabwe — despite having been requested to do so — indicates a lack of political will rather than insufficient legal capacity," the report says.

"South Africa, if presented with credible allegations against Zimbabwean perpetrators of rape who typically enter South African territory, should put aside political considerations and fulfil its legal duty to investigate."

The testimony of the survivors and two witnesses shows how Mugabe’s youth militia usually arrived at night.

"I was at home with my family and everyone was sleeping," said one young woman from Mashonaland Central.

"These people started banging on our doors shouting, ‘Sell-outs. Come out so we can talk’ . . . "When I was outside, I saw ZANU-PF people . . . carrying all kinds of weapons."

The rapes were often "nearly fatal," says the report, adding that 40 of the women said they were beaten with fists, sticks, logs, electric cords or metal rods.

"Six of the women reported that they had to be transported to hospital in wheelbarrows or carts," the report says.

The report warns that the ZANU-PF is "already gearing up for its next campaign of sexual terror" as future elections approach.

Beyond its call for South Africa to act, the report asks the African Union to convene a special summit on rape and sexual violence. It adds the AU should "consider instituting sanctions against Zimbabwe for its failure to address election-related rape in 2008."

Aids-Free World said it launched the study in response to an "urgent call" from a Zimbabwe-based group that believed "hundreds and possibly thousands of women" had been raped by Mugabe’s henchmen.

South African, Canadian and U.S. experts were among those who helped complete the report.

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