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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.