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Executive Summary

Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in 2018 in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed election process in 2018, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excessive use of force; and lack of precision and transparency concerning the release of election results. The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police maintains internal security. The police and the Department of Immigration, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although police fall under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President may direct the police to respond to civil unrest. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces and report to the minister of defense. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the President, engages in both internal and external security matters. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the police, military, and intelligence service committed abuses throughout the country.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by security forces; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious political interference that undermined judicial independence; serious government restrictions on free expression, press, civil society, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including crimes involving violence or threats of violence against women and girls; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although generally not enforced.

Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses or acts of corruption and did not systematically arrest or prosecute such persons.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future