Amnesty International Calls on Zimbabwe to stop the practice and prevalence of torture in Zimbabwe

Amnesty International Public Statement on 26 June



On this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Amnesty International expresses its support for survivors and victims of torture and their family members in Zimbabwe and recalls the obligation to bring all those suspected of responsibility for acts of torture to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty. Over the years torture victims in Zimbabwe have suffered physical pain, as well as psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder despite the prohibition of torture under customary international law and in the constitution.[1] Zimbabwe is yet to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment and is one of only three countries in Africa, including Sudan and Tanzania, that has not yet ratified this important international instrument calling on states to prevent the practice of torture.[2]

The UN Convention defines torture as any act by which severe physical or mental pain or suffering, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or her or a third person information or a confession, punishing him or her for an act he or she has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or her, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.


The practice of torture has been a part of Zimbabwe’s history from the pre-colonial era and has been perpetuated to this day. Between 1965 and 1979 the then Rhodesian government targeted any suspected freedom fighters and their perceived supporters, who were tortured to extract confessions or intimidate and deter them from participating in the liberation struggle. Regrettably, the practice of torture continued in the early 1980s, when the Mugabe led government embarked on widespread and systematic torture of people in Midlands and Matabeleland suspected of supporting the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and political dissidents. Between 2002 and 2008 the authorities again resorted to torture tactics to silence opposition party activists and human rights defenders calling for change.

In the recent past, state agents are alleged to have abducted over 40 people in 2019 and subjected several activists to torture. In its report, “Open for business, closed for dissent”, Amnesty International “documented over a dozen cases that demonstrate patterns of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of protestors, activists, real or perceived opposition members and relatives of people who are being pursued, including women and children, by security forces.”[3]  In the report Amnesty International concluded that, “despite the compelling evidence and allegations of unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture and other forms of ill-treatment by security forces, the government has not taken any genuine and comprehensive measure to investigate and hold suspected perpetrators to account.”[4]

The following few cases illustrate the disturbing incidences of torture in Zimbabwe in the past 18 months. In August 2019 a Zimbabwean comedian and government critic, Samantha Kureya, was allegedly abducted, forced to drink sewage and beaten by masked gunmen in the capital Harare.  On the night of 14 September 2019, Dr Magombeyi was allegedly abducted by unknown people. He was the president of the Zimbabwe Hospitals Doctors Association at the time of his abduction and had led labour actions by medical doctors. When he was found on 19 September, alive and disoriented, he said he was held in a basement where he was tortured and injected with an unknown substance by his abductors. The government allegedly accused him of faking the abduction and tried to prevent him from seeking medical treatment outside the country.

The most recent incident of abduction and torture occurred this month of June 2020. Three MDC-Alliance youth leaders, Joana Mamombe (MP for Harare West), Cecilia Chinembiri (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly Vice Chair) and Netsai Marova (Deputy Organising Secretary for Youth) were arrested on 10 June 2020 on charges of violating lockdown regulation, after participating in protests against food insecurity. They were also charged with falsifying their abduction and alleged torture at the hands of suspected state security agents after they were arrested at a roadblock guarded by the police and army at Warren Park. After their arrest, they were alleged to have been abducted and tortured before being dumped by the roadside. The three activists said that they were sexually abused and forced to drink urine. They are currently in custodial remand awaiting trial and will appear again in court on 26 June.

The failure by the criminal justice system in Zimbabwe to genuinely investigate and prosecute cases of torture against those suspected of criminal responsibility has led to the entrenchment of impunity, lack of accountability and justice. Victims and survivors have no redress in Zimbabwe after being subjected to torture, and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Torture and abductions, as well as the use of excessive force, have been used to intimidate political opponents, silence dissent, crackdown on activists and suppress peaceful protests in Zimbabwe. The authorities must take measures to prevent acts of torture and, when they occur, the authorities are obligated to investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty.


Amnesty International calls upon authorities in Zimbabwe to:

  1. Ratify without making any reservation the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  2. Adopt a domestic law which criminalises torture and launch independent and thorough investigations of past and present torture allegations and ensure that all those suspected of criminal responsibility are brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty.
  3. Provide legislative and administrative measures to ensure that victims and survivors of torture can access effective and prompt redress, including compensation and appropriate social, psychological, medical and other forms rehabilitation.
  4. Take internationally recognised safeguards to prevent torture, including awareness raising and education of law enforcement officers on the harmful effects and consequences of committing acts of torture.
  5. Promptly ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, signed on 17 July 1998 and implement it into national law.
  6. Promptly adhere, without making any reservation, to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and implement it into national law. In addition, Zimbabwe should recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other states parties.

[1] Section 53 of the Zimbabwe constitution provides that no person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

[2] As at 20 June, about 169 countries in the world had ratified or acceded to the UN Convention Against Torture.

[3] Open for business, closed for dissent, Crackdown in Zimbabwe during the national stayaway, Amnesty International Report 2019, at page 11.

[4] Open for business, closed for dissent, Crackdown in Zimbabwe during the national stayaway, Amnesty International Report 2019, at page 14.