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 necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, 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 around the release of election results. The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front Party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police maintain internal security. The Department of Immigration and police, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although police are officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some police roles and missions in response to civil unrest. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces and report to the minister of defense. 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 the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious government restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, 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 violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting women and girls, and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although not enforced.
Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reported arrests or prosecutions of such persons.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In August the nongovernmental organization (NGO) ZimRights suspected members of the security forces in the extrajudicial killing of Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance councilor Lavender Chiwaya. Police ruled there was no foul play. In September the Zimbabwe Republic Police reported killing two men they claimed shot two members of the security forces, killing one and injuring the second. Security officials claimed they tracked the two men and killed them in a shootout when they resisted arrest. Government officials praised security forces’ “swift response,” while human rights organizations, such as ZimRights, questioned security forces’ version of events and called the incident an extrajudicial killing.
Impunity for politically motivated violence remained a problem. The government did not establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution. Investigations continued into violence from previous years, including state-sponsored violence, that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians in January-February 2019 and seven during postelection violence in 2018. As of year’s end, there were no arrests or charges in the cases.
There were no new reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In 2018 the High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but officials failed to do so, without consequence. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.
The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were reports that security forces engaged in such practices with impunity and with the implicit support of government officials. NGOs reported security forces abducted, assaulted, and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assault on and torture of civil society activists, labor leaders, opposition members, and other perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects. In some cases police arrested and charged the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators and accused abduction victims of filing false reports.
Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture on labor leaders and opposition party members during abductions. Reported torture methods included sexual assault; beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, and sjamboks (a heavy whip); falanga (beating the soles of the feet); forced consumption of human excrement; and oral chemical poisoning, as well as pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin. As of November there were a minimum of five reports of short-term abductions and assaults or torture allegedly performed by state security actors. These instances typically occurred at night, although some happened in broad daylight. The abductors forcibly removed persons from their homes, parking lots, and press conferences and assaulted them for hours before abandoning them, usually severely injured and naked, in a remote area.
National Assembly member Joana Mamombe and opposition party members Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova reported being removed from police custody, then abducted and tortured by unknown individuals whom credible sources believed to be government security agents, after they were arrested at a protest at a roadblock on May 13. The three women sustained severe injuries from 36 hours of physical, sexual, and psychological torture. After the three women reported the crimes to police, they were rearrested and charged with making false statements to police and for faking their own abductions. The case remained pending.
From March to September, during a government-mandated lockdown due to COVID-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers systematically used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distance.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and the civilian authorities who oversee them, including police, military, and intelligence officers. To date, no one has answered for disappearances, civilian deaths, rape, abduction, or torture allegations from the 1980s to as recently as November. Security forces were firmly under the control of the ruling party and were often directed against the political opposition.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities. The ZPCS provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities. The ZPCS also allowed churches and other organizations to teach life-skills training.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were often harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported that most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs. The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) did not provide adequate food, water, and sanitary conditions as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic. Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs observed during the past several years. As of year’s end, no investigation of the death of Hilton Tamangani in October 2019 had begun. Tamangani was found dead in his cell in the Harare Remand Prison. His lawyers claimed he was severely beaten by police and then denied medical treatment.
NGOs reported female prisoners generally fared better than did male prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. Women generally received more food from their families than male prisoners. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. NGOs were unaware of female inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed feminine hygiene supplies. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.
There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys when left together. Authorities generally sent juveniles to prison rather than to reformatory homes as stipulated in the law, as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles remained vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners.
Prisoners with mental health issues were often held together with regular prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.
According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April to address COVID-19, NGOs and other contacts as well as several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were only tested when sent to nonremand prisons.
Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, PPE, and information about the virus, but distribution decreased during the year. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding because of the country’s protracted economic crisis.
The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 while incarcerated in August (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. Prisoners identified as malnourished received additional meals. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water-collection systems.
Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.
Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.
Administration: The inspections and audit unit of the ZPCS, intended to assess prison conditions and improve monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman. There were statutory mechanisms to allow alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, but the number of nonviolent offenders benefitting from these mechanisms was unknown.
Prisoners and detainees had relatively unrestricted access to visitors before COVID-19, except in maximum-security prisons, where remoteness hampered access by prisoners’ relatives. The COVID-19 lockdown cut off prisoners from most people and organizations.
Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. Some organizations working in prisons reported that meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown. One NGO reported prisoner authorities authorized a few prison visits for special donation missions.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weaken these prohibitions. The government enforced security laws in conflict with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists, labor leaders, and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested large numbers of persons during and following antigovernment protests.
The law stipulates that arrests require a warrant issued by a court or senior police officer and that police inform an arrested person of the charges before taking the individual into custody. Police did not always respect these requirements. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. This was not followed consistently. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.
The law provides for bail for most accused persons. The government amended the law to include provisions that allow prosecutors to veto judicial bail decisions and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days, despite a prior Constitutional Court ruling declaring this power unconstitutional. Prosecutors relied on these provisions to extend the detention of opposition leaders, civil society activists, and labor leaders, some of whom were denied bail for almost two months.
Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. The government also monitored, harassed, intimidated, and arrested human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients. An indigent detainee may apply to the government for an attorney in criminal cases, but only in capital cases. Some opposition party members, civil society activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens had limited or no access to their legal counsel. In one instance a magistrate attempted to revoke prominent human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa’s license to practice law during her defense of a journalist who had written articles exposing government corruption and made social media posts encouraging peaceful protests against corruption. As of November the magistrate’s petition to revoke the law license remained pending.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government regularly used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, attorneys, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. The government sometimes used COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to arrest individuals perceived as threats against the government. Police and media reported that security forces arrested more than 105,000 political and civil society activists, journalists, labor leaders, and ordinary citizens from March 30 to September for their alleged violation of COVID-19 lockdown measures or alleged involvement in planned demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, and other cities. For example two journalists were arrested in May for violating COVID-19 measures during their interviews with abduction and torture victims. After four months of enduring strict bail conditions, such as weekly reporting to police stations and surrender of passports, the case against the journalists was dismissed in September. Police arrested more than 20 individuals who organized, promoted, or participated in a July 31 anticorruption demonstration, including opposition party Transform Zimbabwe president Jacob Ngarivhume, who was arrested and charged on July 23 with inciting the public to commit violence. As of November several human rights defenders remained in hiding after police issued a list of persons wanted for questioning in connection with the July 31 protest.
After more than a year of strict bail conditions, including weekly reporting to police stations and surrender of passports, the government dismissed the cases of seven civil society activists charged with subversion in 2019.
The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued that they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was rare for nonpolitical prisoners. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, and an insufficient number of court officials to hear many cases. The constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects. Despite this provision, the government routinely opposed bail for political detainees, and judges generally upheld these motions. When judges issued bail rulings, they would often delay announcing their rulings until after the court cashier closed on Fridays to ensure political detainees remained in prison over the weekend.
Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail. Magistrates rarely exercised the “free bail option” that authorizes them to waive bail for destitute prisoners. Lawyers reported juveniles usually spent more time in pretrial detention than did adults because they could not attend court unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. Sometimes their parents could not be located or did not have the funds to travel to court. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but executive influence and interference remained a problem. There continued to be some instances where the judiciary demonstrated its independence despite being under intense pressure to conform to government policies.
The government often refused to abide by judicial decisions and routinely delayed payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it in civil cases. Judicial corruption was widespread, extending beyond magistrates and judges. For example, NGOs reported senior government officials undermined judicial independence, including by giving homes, farms, and agricultural machinery to judges.
Magistrates heard the vast majority of cases. Legal experts claimed defendants in politically sensitive cases were less likely to receive a fair hearing in magistrates’ courts than in higher courts. In lower courts justices were more likely to make politicized decisions due to the use of threats and intimidation to force magistrates, particularly rural magistrates, to rule in the government’s favor. In politically charged cases, other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced pressure from high-ranking judges and officials of the ruling party, including harassment and intimidation. Some high court justices demonstrated a greater degree of independence and granted opposition party members and civil society activists bail against the government’s wishes. There were reports of instances where judges or magistrates should have recused themselves from politically charged cases but failed to do so.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but political pressure and corruption frequently compromised this right. By law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts did not always respect this right. Magistrates or judges held trials without juries. Trials were usually open to the public except in cases involving minors or state security matters. Government officials liberally interpreted state security matters to include trials and hearings for defendants who protested against the government or reported on government corruption. Assessors–usually nonlawyers who sit together with a judge to provide either expert advice or guidance on local practices–in lieu of juries, could be appointed in cases in which conviction of an offense could result in a death penalty or lengthy prison sentence. Defendants have the right to a lawyer of their choosing, but most defendants in magistrates’ courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases an indigent defendant may apply to have the government provide an attorney, but requests were rarely granted except in capital cases, in which the government provided an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Individuals in civil cases may request free legal assistance from the Legal Resources Foundation or Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association also provided some free legal assistance to women and youth. The law provides for free interpretation, and Shona-English and Ndebele-English interpretation was generally available. The right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense is also provided for by law but was often lacking. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and to confront adverse witnesses.
Any person arrested or detained for an alleged offense has the right to remain silent and may not be compelled to confess. There were no known cases of torture-induced confessions used in court. Authorities did not always respect these rights. Authorities sometimes denied or significantly delayed attorneys’ access to their clients or falsely claimed the attorneys’ clients were being held at another facility.
Conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution bears the burden of proof. The right to appeal both conviction and sentence exists in all cases, and it is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed.
Government officials sometimes ignored court orders, delayed bail and access to medical care, and selectively enforced court orders related to land disputes favorable to those associated with the government.
The public had fair access to the courts of law, particularly the magistrates’ courts, although observers reported occasional physical and procedural impediments, such as limited available seating areas and arbitrary rules about note taking during hearings.
There were reports of individuals arrested for political reasons, including opposition party officials, their supporters, NGO workers, journalists, civil society activists, and labor leaders. Authorities sometimes detained such individuals for one or two days and released them without charge. Political prisoners and detainees did not receive the same standard of treatment as other prisoners or detainees, and prison authorities arbitrarily denied visitor access to political prisoners. There were reports police beat and physically abused political and civil society activists while they were in detention.
Unlike normal criminal proceedings, which move from investigation to trial within months, prosecuting agents regularly took abnormally long to submit for trial cases involving members of the political opposition or civil society critics of the government. Hearings were sometimes scheduled when presiding judges were on vacation. Prosecutors in political cases were often “unprepared to proceed” and received numerous continuances. In many cases where authorities granted bail to government opponents, they did not conclude investigations and set a trial date but instead chose to “proceed by way of summons.” This left the threat of impending prosecution remaining, with the accused person eventually being called to court, only to be informed of further delays.
In July police arrested opposition party leader Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for their alleged roles in planning and promoting a July 31 protest against government corruption. They were held for approximately six weeks before being released on strict bail conditions that included surrendering their passports, agreeing not to use social media to promote public violence, and reporting regularly to police stations. On November 3, authorities rearrested Hopewell Chin’ono for abusing social media and detained him until November 20, when he received bail. Both Ngarivhume and Chin’ono’s cases remained pending.
In 2019 the government charged 22 persons with subversion for their participation in organizing demonstrations or attending civic engagement trainings. As of November courts had dismissed charges against 10 of the defendants. The government alleged the defendants intended to take over a constitutionally elected government. As of year’s end, the Mnangagwa administration had not fully prosecuted anyone for subversion, but those charged with subversion must surrender their passports and report to local police stations regularly.
There were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country to take adverse action against specific individuals or groups. In September media reported government officials secured an extradition treaty with South Africa to allow the forcible return of some members of the “G40,” a group comprised of former Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) members aligned with Grace Mugabe, widow of the late president Robert Mugabe. As of November 30, no publicized extraditions of G40 members had occurred.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Civil judicial procedures allow for an independent and impartial judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political influence and intimidation, particularly in cases involving high-ranking government officials, politically connected individuals, or individuals and organizations seeking remedies for abuses of human rights.
The constitution stipulates the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land taken by the government, but it does not set a timeline for the delivery of compensation. The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the confiscation of private property, and police generally did not take action against individuals who seized private property without having secured authorization from the state to do so.
Support was uneven and inconsistent for more than 1,800 households resettled in the past decade from the diamond mining fields of Marange in Chiadzwa to a government-owned agricultural estate outside Mutare. Each household was entitled to receive $1,000 for relocation, although reportedly only a handful received the money. Most of the relocated families had not received compensation of any kind, including agricultural land, while the government classified them as “people with no recognizable legal rights or claim to the land they are occupying,” stating that their former land became state land, despite customary and traditional rights to the contrary.
A majority of commercial farmers reported the government had not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement program that began in 2000. According to the attorney general and Ministry of Lands, beginning in 2000 a description of every white-owned farm in the country was published in state media and the farms effectively became state property. According to the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), after authorities published a description of the property, it was usually transferred to a politically connected individual at the first available opportunity.
The CFU reported that since 2000 most titleholders who lost their homes or properties, where most of their life earnings were invested, were not compensated. As a result of evictions, there were scores of destitute elderly former farmers and former farm workers. In July the government, the CFU, and other farmers’ groups signed a $3.5 billion compensation deal for farms expropriated in the decades following independence. The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years. Despite the negotiated agreement, government officials continued to seize farms without compensation as recently as September 11.
The CFU estimated there were fewer than 400 active white commercial farmers still living in the country. Those remaining continued to be targeted, harassed, threatened with eviction, and evicted by unemployed youth and individuals hired by politically connected individuals standing to benefit from the farm seizures.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home, but local NGOs reported the government did not respect these rights. Throughout the year government officials pressured local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists to monitor and report on persons suspected of supporting political parties other than ZANU-PF. Through threats and intimidation, local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists also compelled individuals, mostly in rural areas, to contribute money and public resources, such as school buses and school meeting spaces, toward ZANU-PF political rallies.
Government entities manipulated the distribution of government-provided food aid, agricultural inputs, and access to education and other assistance programs to exclude suspected political opposition supporters and to compel support for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF supporters threatened to withhold food aid to citizens in Glenview, Mangwe, and Nyanga during the period preceding each area’s constituency by-election in 2019.
The law permits the interception and monitoring of any communication (including telephone, postal mail, email, and internet traffic) in the course of transmission through a telecommunication, postal, or other system in the country. Civil liberties advocates claimed the government used the law to stifle freedom of speech and target political and civil society activists (see section 2.a.).
Security forces sometimes punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. On July 29, police searched the Bulawayo home of news site ZimLive.com editor Mduduzi Mathuthu for information on subversive materials linked to protests scheduled for July 31. Mathuthu was not at home when police arrived and remained in hiding as of November. Police detained his sister, Nomagugu Mathuthu, at the Bulawayo Central Police Station, then released her after arresting Mathuthu’s nephew, Tawanda Muchehiwa, on July 30. Muchehiwa reportedly disappeared from police custody and then was left at his residence on August 1, badly beaten by individuals suspected of being state security agents.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, and conviction is punishable by lengthy prison sentences. Nonetheless, women’s organizations stated that rape remained widespread, sentences were inconsistent, and victims were not consistently afforded protection in court. The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission reported that as of November 2019, an average of 22 women were raped daily.
Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. In the case of spousal rape, reporting was even lower due to women’s fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to be involved in domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Most rural citizens were unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.
According to an NGO, no one had been held to account for the 16 reported rapes by security forces from January through March 2019 in retaliation for January 2019 stay-away demonstrations.
Female political leaders were targeted physically or faced violent threats and intimidation (see section 1.c.).
Children born from rape suffered stigmatization and marginalization. Mothers of children resulting from rape sometimes were reluctant to register the births, and therefore such children did not have access to social services.
The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run by NGOs and did not receive a significant amount of financial support from the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The clinics reported receiving an average of 300 rape referrals each year from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests and provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although police referred for prosecution the majority of reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers, very few individuals were prosecuted.
Domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. Although conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a substantial monetary fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter, and prosecution was rare.
The government continued a public awareness campaign against domestic violence. Several women’s rights groups worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. According to NGOs, most urban police stations had trained officers to deal with victims of domestic violence, but stations had a limited ability to respond on evenings and weekends. The law requires victims of any form of violence to produce a police report to receive free treatment at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape victims from receiving necessary medical treatment, including postexposure prophylaxis to prevent victims from contracting HIV. NGOs observed a significant increase in gender-based violence reports during government-mandated lockdowns due to COVID-19. One NGO tracked a threefold increase in requests for domestic violence-related assistance.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no national statistics available regarding FGM/C, but the practice of labial elongation reportedly occurred with “aunties” taking the lead on the process.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing continued to occur in some regions during the year. Breast ironing was documented.
Sexual Harassment: No specific law criminalizes sexual harassment, but labor law prohibits the practice in the workplace. Media reported that sexual harassment was prevalent in universities, workplaces, and parliament, where legislators routinely and publicly body shamed, name called, and booed female members of parliament. Female politicians seeking public office also reported sexual harassment by male leaders in charge of candidate selection in political parties (see section 3). The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development acknowledged that lack of sexual harassment policies at higher education institutions was a major cause for concern. This acknowledgement came after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network Trust, published the results of a 2017 survey that revealed high incidences of gender-based violence and sexual harassment of female students. Female college students reported they routinely encountered unwanted physical contact from male students, lecturers, and nonacademic staff, ranging from touching and inappropriate remarks to rape. Of the students interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in general, 74 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment by male university staff, and 16 percent reported they were raped by lecturers or other staff.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and some had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Adolescents, rural residents, and survivors of gender-based-violence, however, lacked consistent access to the means to manage their reproductive health. According to the UN Population Fund’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights Country Profile, in 2015, 87 percent of married or in-union women reported making decisions on their health care, 93 percent had autonomy in deciding to use contraception, and 72 percent reported they could say no to sex.
According to Track 20, a Family Planning 2030-supported initiative, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 69 percent for 2020, up from 66.5 percent in the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS). Barriers affecting access to contraception included supply chain and commodity problems and remote access to health facilities. Cultural barriers included religious skepticism of modern medicine among some groups. he government’s policy and legal framework also served as a barrier for adolescents and those still in school due to its ambiguity on the permitted age of access to contraception. According to various media sources, access to contraception became more challenging due to COVID-19 and government lockdown measures that restricted travel.
The law and the creation of one-stop centers for survivors of gender-based violence were designed to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Widespread access, however, remained constrained by limited state funding to NGOs running adult rape clinics in Harare and Mutare and by limited night and weekend police capacity to provide the police report that is the necessary first step in accessing free treatment at government health facilities.
According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 462 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 651 deaths per 100,000 live births reported in the 2015 ZDHS. The leading direct causes of maternal mortality were preventable hemorrhage, hypertensive pregnancy disorders, and sepsis, which occurred despite high prenatal care coverage, high institutional deliveries, and the presence of a skilled health worker at delivery. According to the WHO World Health Statistics 2020 Report, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel was 86 percent for the period 2010-2019 (up from 69 percent for the period 2000-2008 ), the adolescent birth rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years) for the period 2010-2018 was 78 (down from 101 for the period 2000-2007), and the proportion of women of reproductive age who had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods for the period 2010-2019 was 85 percent. No national statistics were available regarding FGM/C, including implications for maternal morbidity, but reports indicated it was a problem among some communities.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The constitution’s bill of rights, in the section on the rights of women, states that all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.” There is also an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development and the Gender Commission, one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. Despite the appointment of commissioners in 2015, the commission received only minimal funding from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry.
The commission released a statement of concern in May regarding the gendered impact of the COVID-19-related government lockdown. The commission appealed to the government, civil society, private sector, development agencies, and citizens to enhance protection systems and ensure economic recovery plans include women, street children, and sex workers.
The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Less than 20 percent of female farmers were official landowners or named on government lease agreements. Divorce and alimony laws were equitable, but many women lacked awareness of their rights, and in traditional practice property reverts to the man in case of divorce or to his family in case of his death. A marriage law enacted in 2019 amended and consolidated the country’s marriage laws in alignment with the constitution. The law abolishes child marriage and affords civil partnerships or common law marriages the same remedies as legal marriages. Civil partnerships are only for heterosexual persons. The law does not address property rights during marriage or inheritance following the death of a spouse.
Women have the right to register their children’s births, although either the father or another male relative must be present. If the father or other male relative refuses to register the child, the child may be deprived of a birth certificate, which limits the child’s ability to acquire identity documents, enroll in school, and access social services.
Women and children were adversely affected by the government’s forced evictions, demolition of homes and businesses, and takeover of commercial farms. Widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes “inherited” into marriages with an in-law after the deaths of their spouses.
The government gave qualified women access to training in the armed forces and national service, where they occupied primarily administrative positions. The Air Force of Zimbabwe has one female fighter-jet pilot, certified in 2018 in China. In the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, there were two female brigadier generals appointed in 2013 and 2016, respectively and one female air commodore appointed in 2016. Minister of Defense and War Veterans Oppah Muchinguri was a woman.
The government did not consistently enforce the laws regarding equality. Government efforts to implement legal equality for men and women were undermined by traditional practices and courts that recognized male prerogatives in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and the judicial process.
Birth Registration: The 2013 constitution states citizenship is derived from birth in the country and from either parent, and all births are to be registered with the Births and Deaths Registry. The 2012 population census data showed that just one in three children younger than age five possessed a birth certificate. Of urban children younger than age five, 55 percent possessed a birth certificate, compared with 25 percent of rural children. Lack of birth certificates impeded access to public services, such as education and health care, resulting in many children being unable to attend school and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.
Education: The constitution states that every citizen and permanent resident of the country has a right to a basic state-funded education but adds a caveat that when the state provides education, it “must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it.” According to the 2012 population census, 87 percent of all children attended primary school. School attendance was only slightly higher in urban than in rural areas, and enrollment for children older than 14 was in decline. Urban and rural equity in primary school attendance rates disappeared at the secondary school level. Rural secondary education attendance (44 percent) trailed behind urban attendance (72 percent) by a wide margin. Many schools closed during the year due to COVID-19-related government lockdowns and teacher strikes against low wages.
Girls were more at risk of dropping out of school. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education reported in 2018 that 12.5 percent of the estimated 57,500 students who dropped out of school were either pregnant or newly married girls. In most circumstances these girls were expelled when school officials believed they could no longer support them. In August, however, President Mnangagwa legally barred government schools from expelling pregnant students to improve gender equality in classrooms. The legal amendment fortifies a 1999 guideline that was sparsely enforced throughout the country.
Although it is mandated by the constitution, there was a lack of free basic education for children, increasing the risk of children’s involvement in child labor. In the past children were required to attend school only up to age 12, which made children ages 12 through 15 particularly vulnerable to child labor, even though they are not legally permitted to work. School fees were often prohibitively expensive and limited access to education, leading some to leave school and enter the workforce at a young age. As of March education is compulsory until the age of 16. Parents who failed to send their children to school can face up to two years in prison.
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including incest, infanticide, child abandonment, and rape, continued to be a serious problem, especially for girls. During the year the NGO Childline reported significant increases in calls received via its national helpline, especially from March to September when COVID-19-related government lockdowns were the strictest. In 2019 approximately 26 percent of all reported cases of abuse to Childline concerned a child who had been sexually abused, 28 percent concerned physically or emotionally abused children, 18 percent involved neglect, and 7 percent related to forced marriage. Of the 25,000 total cases, 93 percent involved girls.
The government made progress in efforts to combat child abuse, such as outlawing corporal punishment for students and juveniles, but implementation legislation was lacking. Government and private facilities that addressed child abuse were underfunded. President Mnangagwa added an amendment to the Education Act on August 22 making it illegal for teachers to cane students. In 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled against the use of corporal punishment in sentences meted out to male juveniles, but this prohibition had not been confirmed through legislative reform. In 2017 the High Court outlawed corporal punishment for children at school and home.
The NGO Childline reported a spike in distress calls from minors since COVID-19 lockdowns closed many schools and workplaces. Before the lockdown, Childline received an average of 50,000 calls per month; in May they received 75,152 calls. Childline staff disclosed they responded to 633 child abuse cases as of September, including 321 sexual abuse cases.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The constitution declares anyone younger than age 18 a child. The marriage law prohibits anyone underage from marriage or entering a civil partnership, and new legislation also criminalizes assisting, encouraging, or permitting child marriages or civil partnerships. The government made significant efforts during the year to combat child marriage, including drafting an updated Marriages Bill that criminalizes marrying a child or pledging a child to marriage. As of December the House of Assembly had approved the bill and passed it to the Senate.
According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, however, 34 percent of girls were married before the age of 18. Despite legal prohibitions, some rural families and religious sects continued to force girls to marry. Child welfare NGOs reported evidence of underage marriages, particularly in isolated religious communities or among AIDS orphans who had no relatives willing or able to take care of them. High rates of unemployment, the dropout of girls from school, and the inability of families to earn a stable income were major causes of child marriage.
Families gave girls or young women to other families in marriage to avenge spirits, as compensatory payment in interfamily disputes, or to provide economic protection for the family. Some families sold their daughters as brides in exchange for food, and younger daughters at times married their deceased older sister’s husband as a “replacement” bride. An NGO study published in 2014 found that because of the cultural emphasis placed on virginity, any loss of virginity, real or perceived, consensual or forced, could result in marriage, including early or forced marriage. In some instances family members forced a girl to marry a man based on the mere suspicion that the two had had sexual intercourse. This cultural practice even applied in cases of rape, and the study found numerous instances in which families concealed rape by facilitating the marriage between rapist and victim.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, young girls became more vulnerable to forced marriages. With schools closed and impoverished families desperate for income, girls were at a higher risk of being married off or subject to sexual violence.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of statutory rape, legally defined as sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 12, carries a substantial fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. A person in possession of child pornography may be charged with public indecency; convictions result in a small fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A conviction of procuring a child younger than age 16 for purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct may result in a substantial fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. Persons charged with facilitating the prostitution of a child often were also charged with statutory rape. A parent or guardian convicted of allowing a child younger than age 18 to associate with or become a prostitute may face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Girls from towns bordering South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique were subjected to prostitution in brothels that catered to long-distance truck drivers. Increasing economic hardships contributed to more girls engaging in prostitution.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual exploitation of children was widespread, and not all penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The publication America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture reported child prostitution rates in the country increased as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic difficulties led families to use their underage daughters as a source of income. Most of these girls acted as the head of their household, with either bereft or deceased parents or elderly grandparents who could not work.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police issued a memo during the year ordering police officers not to use prostitution or sexual acts by family members to subsidize the family’s income.
Displaced Children: A 2016 UNICEF report estimated 18 percent of children had lost one or both parents to AIDS and other causes. The proportion of orphans in the country remained very high. Many orphans were cared for by their extended family or lived on the street or in households headed by children.
Orphaned children were more likely to be abused, not enrolled in school, suffer discrimination and social stigma, and be vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Some children turned to prostitution for income. Orphaned children often were unable to obtain birth certificates because they could not provide enough information regarding their parents or afford to travel to offices that issued birth certificates. Orphans were often homeless.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The Jewish community numbered approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, access to public places, and the provision of services, including education and health care. The law does not specifically address air travel or other transportation, nor does it specify physical, sensory, mental, or intellectual disabilities. NGOs continued to lobby to broaden the legal definition of “disabled” to include persons with albinism, epilepsy, and other conditions. As of September parliament had not implemented enabling legislation to align the Disabled Persons Act with the constitution, despite a 2019 petition from NGOs to do so. Government institutions often were uninformed and did not implement the law. The law stipulates that government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but implementation was slow.
The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) reported access to justice in courts was difficult for persons with hearing disabilities due to a lack of sign language interpreters. Persons with disabilities living in rural settings faced even greater access challenges.
Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance, including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons, to bring an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) helped ensure persons with disabilities had access at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during elections. During the 2018 national elections, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) found 97 percent of observed polling stations made adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. During 2019 and 2020 by-elections, ZESN again reported adequate accommodations for voters.
Although two senators were elected to represent persons with disabilities, parliament rarely addressed problems especially affecting such persons. Parliament does not provide specific line items for persons with disabilities in the various social service ministry budgets.
Most persons holding traditional beliefs viewed persons with disabilities as bewitched, and in extreme cases families hid children with disabilities from visitors. Relatives routinely refused responsibility for raising orphans with disabilities. According to NASCOH, the public considered persons with disabilities to be objects of pity rather than persons with rights. NASCOH reported that 75 percent of children with disabilities had no access to education.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were very few government-sponsored education facilities dedicated to persons with disabilities. Educational institutions discriminated against children with disabilities. Essential services, including sign language interpreters, braille materials, and ramps, were not available and prevented children with disabilities from attending school. Many schools refused to accept children with certain disabilities. Schools that accepted students with disabilities offered very little in the way of nonacademic facilities for those accepted as compared with their counterparts without disabilities. Many urban children with disabilities obtained informal education through private institutions, but these options were generally unavailable for persons with disabilities in rural areas. Government programs, such as the basic education assistance module intended to benefit children with disabilities, failed to address adequately the root causes of their systematic exclusion.
Women with disabilities faced compounded discrimination, resulting in limited access to services, reduced opportunities for civic and economic participation, and increased vulnerability to violence.
Persons with mental disabilities also experienced inadequate medical care and a lack of health services. There were 25 mental health institutions, including four referral centers, five provincial units and wards, three-day treatment facilities, three outpatient facilities, and 10 community residential facilities in the country with a total capacity of more than 1,500 residents, in addition to the three special institutions run by the ZPCS for long-term residents and those considered dangerous to society. Residents in these government-run institutions received cursory screening, and most waited for at least one year for a full medical review. In the informal sector, the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) played a large role in the management of psychosomatic and anxiety disorders. ZINATHA conducted training for its members to learn to refer patients with mental health problems to the formal sector.
A shortage of drugs and adequately trained mental health professionals resulted in persons with mental disabilities not being properly diagnosed and not receiving adequate therapy. There were few certified psychiatrists working in public and private clinics and teaching in the country. NGOs reported that getting access to mental health services was slow and frustrating. They reported persons with mental disabilities suffered from extremely poor living conditions, due in part to shortages of food, water, clothing, and sanitation.
Prison inmates with disabilities in facilities run by the ZPCS were sometimes held without charges, pending psychiatric evaluation. Two doctors examined inmates with psychiatric conditions. The doctors were required to confirm a mental disability and recommend an individual for release or return to a mental institution. Inmates with mental disabilities routinely waited as long as three years for evaluation.
Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance, including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons, to bring an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. NASCOH helped ensure persons with disabilities had access at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during elections. During the 2018 national elections, ZESN found 97 percent of observed polling stations made adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. During 2019 and 2020 by-elections, ZESN again reported adequate accommodations for voters.
According to government statistics, the Shona ethnic group made up 82 percent of the population, Ndebele 14 percent, whites and Asians less than 1 percent, and other ethnic and racial groups 3 percent.
Historical tension between the Shona majority and the Ndebele minority resulted in continued marginalization of the Ndebele by the Shona-dominated government. During the year senior political leaders refrained from attacking each other along ethnic lines to consolidate support ahead of the by-elections. Within the Shona majority, the Zezuru subgroup, who dominated the government under Mugabe, reportedly harbored resentment toward the Karanga subgroup after Mnangagwa, an ethnic Karanga, became president. When the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a pastoral letter condemning the government’s violent crackdown on dissent, the minister of information, who was of Shona descent, singled out the head of the bishops’ conference, who was of Ndebele descent, and accused him of stoking a “Rwanda-type genocide.”
Some government officials continued to blame the country’s economic and political problems on the white minority and western countries. Police seldom arrested government officials or charged them with infringing upon minority rights, particularly the property rights of the minority white commercial farmers or wildlife conservancy owners, who continued to be targeted in land redistribution programs without compensation.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
According to the criminal code, “any act involving physical contact between men that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act” carries a penalty if convicted of up to one year in prison or a substantial fine. There were no known cases of prosecutions of consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
Members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), the primary organization dedicated to advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, experienced harassment and discrimination against members seeking employment and health services. Transsmart, another active LGBTI group, reported their members believed they were unsafe and unwelcome in churches due to deeply held religious and social stigmas in society. There is no legal option to change gender pronouns on state identity cards, creating identification and travel difficulties for transgender persons. The mismatch between gender presentation and identification pronouns can lead state officials, police, and potential employers to believe the individual is committing identity theft, sometimes leading to criminal arrest.
GALZ reported its membership had more than doubled since 2015. The group noted a decline in the arrest and detention of LGBTI community members but reported half of gay men had been physically assaulted and 64 percent had been disowned by their families. Of lesbians, 27 percent reported harassment, assault, or disownment.
LGBTI persons were vulnerable to blackmail because of the criminality and stigma associated with same-sex conduct. LGBTI advocacy organizations reported blackmail and being “outed” as two of the most common forms of repression of LGBTI persons. It was common for blackmailers to threaten to reveal one’s sexual identity to police, the church, employers, or family if the victim refused to render payment.
According to GALZ, LGBTI persons often left school at an early age due to discrimination. Higher-education institutions reportedly threatened to expel students based on their sexual orientation. Members of the LGBTI community also had higher rates of unemployment and homelessness.
GALZ reported that many persons who identified themselves as LGBTI did not seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases or other health problems due to fear that health-care providers would shun them or report them to authorities. Public medical services did not offer hormone therapy or gender-confirmation surgeries to the transgender and intersex community. A small number of private clinics provided testosterone therapy, but patients seeking estrogen therapy were required to purchase and self-administer the medicines privately or travel to neighboring countries where treatment was available. Some parents treated their children’s identity as an intellectual disability and forced transgender youth into mental health institutions.
The government has a national HIV/AIDS policy that prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, and the law prohibits discrimination against workers with HIV or AIDS in the private sector and parastatals. Despite these provisions, societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a problem. Local NGOs reported persons affected by HIV or AIDS faced discrimination in health services, education, and employment. Although there was an active information campaign to destigmatize HIV/AIDS by international and local NGOs, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, and the National AIDS Council, such ostracism and criticism continued.
In the 2015 Demographic Health Survey, 22 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported they held discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV or AIDS. Approximately 6 percent of women and 9 percent of men opined that children with HIV or AIDS should not be allowed to attend school with children without the virus. Approximately 40 percent of sex workers with HIV or AIDS said they avoided seeking health care due to stigma and discrimination. Approximately 6 percent of individuals with HIV or AIDS reported being denied some form of health care due to their positive status.
Promotion of Acts of Discrimination
Government efforts to discriminate against white farmers by seizing farmland diminished but did not cease. Throughout the year government-controlled media did not vilify white citizens or blame them for the country’s problems, as was common practice under former president Mugabe. Nevertheless, some farm seizures continued.