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 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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
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 and Detention Center Conditions
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.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively or impartially, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Despite government pronouncements, corruption remained a severe problem that experts described as “catch and release,” where the government arrested some corrupt officials, often those who have fallen out of favor, without ever convicting them.
Corruption: Corruption in both the public and private sectors persisted. The country continued to experience both petty and grand corruption, defined respectively by Transparency International Zimbabwe as an “everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- to mid-level public officials” and “an abuse of high-level power by political elites.”
The constitution mandates the Zimbabwe Anticorruption Commission (ZACC) to conduct corruption investigations. In 2019 President Mnangagwa appointed nine new commissioners to the ZACC and gave the commission the power to arrest. It does not have the power to prosecute. In August a separate Special Anti-Corruption Unit was created within the Office of the Presidency. Concerns remained that the ZACC primarily targeted high-profile officials who had fallen out of favor with President Mnangagwa and that the government’s anticorruption efforts were highly politicized.
On July 9, President Mnangagwa fired the Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo for corruptly awarding a multi-million-dollar contract overpaying for medical equipment related to fighting COVID-19. Moyo, arrested on June 19, was released on bail the next day, unlike the journalist who raised public awareness of the scandal, who was denied bail for six weeks. As of December 1, the courts had not set a date to hear Moyo’s case.
In June, in addition to Obadiah Moyo, President Mnangagwa fired Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi pending his investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. As of December neither case nor investigation had concluded. Police frequently arrested citizens for exposing corruption while ignoring reports implicating high-level businesspersons and politicians.
Implementation of the government’s redistribution of expropriated white-owned commercial farms often favored the ZANU-PF elite and continued to lack transparency (see section 1.f.). High-level ZANU-PF officials selected numerous farms and registered them in the names of family members to evade the government’s policy of one farm per official. The government continued to allow individuals aligned with top officials to seize land not designated for acquisition. The government conducted a comprehensive land audit in 2018 to reflect land ownership accurately, but the commission had not completed the exercise. Landowners connected to ZANU-PF routinely sold land to citizens but refused to transfer ownership officially or to develop the land as agreed upon in contracts. ZANU-PF officials continued to seize farms without compensation throughout the year.
The Ministry of Finance made progress in removing unqualified persons from the state payroll by removing thousands of youth officers from various ministries. According to the most recent audit, illicit salary payments were made to large numbers of persons who were retired, deceased, or otherwise absent from their place of employment. Duplicate personally identifiable information in files indicated some persons received multiple salaries. The government implemented a biometric registration system for civil servants to reduce improper salary payments.
In its 2019 report, the Office of the Auditor General exposed corruption, including payment for undelivered goods such as motor vehicles, generators, excavators, and biometric cards. It reported that between 2016 and 2018, the government failed to account for how it spent $29.6 million in the maize distribution portion of its Command Agriculture program. Anecdotal reports indicated a significant portion of this total was lost to corruption. The auditor general also reported $417 million of accounts receivable that remained outstanding for extended periods, making their collectability doubtful. Notable cases in the report included the Zimbabwe Electrification Transmission and Distribution Company, which had not taken delivery of transformers nine years after making a payment of $4.9 million to a supplier. The report received extensive media coverage, but targeted ZANU-PF officials dismissed the report as exaggerated or falsified. The report attributed 80 percent of its flagged concerns on state-owned enterprises to “governance issues.” The report also exposed poor maintenance of accounting records in some ministries, with some diverting funds for improper purposes while others paid for goods and services not delivered.
Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected or appointed officials to disclose income or assets.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment or occupational discrimination based on race, color, gender, tribe, political opinion, creed, place of origin, disability, HIV status, and pregnancy. The law does not expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on age, language, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or non-HIV-related communicable diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation (see section 6), and political affiliation for civil servants.
The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor legislation prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, and an employer may be held liable for civil remedies if found to be in violation of provisions against “unfair labor practices,” including sexual harassment. The law does not specify penalties for conviction of such violations. Women commonly faced sexual harassment in the workplace (see section 6).
It was unknown if there were formal complaints of wage discrimination filed with the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare; however, women’s salaries lagged behind those of men in most sectors, and women faced discrimination on the basis of gender when seeking maternity leave provided for by law and other gender-based benefits. The government did not respond to international organizations’ requests for information on the criteria used to evaluate candidates for public-sector employment or the measures taken to ensure men and women receive equal remuneration for equal work and to monitor other gender disparities. Unions expressed their concern regarding wage disparity between management and employees.
There was a relative lack of women in decision-making positions, despite a constitutional requirement for equal representation of both men and women in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.
Employment discrimination against migrant workers occurred, especially those employed in the informal sector.
Persons with HIV, AIDS, and albinism faced discrimination in employment. Employers discriminated against members of minority ethnic groups whom they often perceived as opposition supporters. Persons with disabilities faced social and employment discrimination and lack of access to many workplaces. Members of trade unions and workers committees often perceived that adverse employment action targeted them and that workers feared the consequences of participating in trade unions or workers committees. LGBTI persons faced discrimination in employment. It was unknown whether there were official reports of discrimination against migrant laborers in the formal sector.