Amnesty International condemns threats by the state to use excessive force to suppress dissent

Excessive Use of Force

Amnesty International is concerned with threats by Zimbabwe’s
Deputy Minister of Defence, Victor Matemadanda, “to unleash
security forces on the protestors” in response to an alleged
planned mass protest in the country. Other senior government
officials have made similar threats of the use of force should
Zimbabweans go into the streets to protest.

This evokes memories of killings of civilians by security forces in August
2018 and January 2019. On 1 August 2018, six people were
shot and killed by military personnel during protests for alleged
mishandling of presidential elections. In January 2019, 17
people were killed, and scores arrested and tortured by law
enforcement officers during protests over fuel price increases.
In both instances, Zimbabwe authorities deployed the military
personnel who used live ammunition on fleeing protesters and
third persons not involved in the protests. This is in violation of
the Constitution of Zimbabwe and international human rights
standards proscribing the abusive and arbitrary use of force
and firearms even during public emergencies. The actions of
the law enforcement officials in Zimbabwe are in violation of the
right to protest and demonstrate.

The UN Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms requires
that the management of public assemblies be governed by
principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and accountability.
Excessive use of force is prohibited, and proportionate force
may be used as a last resort causing minimum harm. The
force used must be proportionate to the imminent harm to be
averted and the use of firearms may only be used with restraint
to protect any present danger to life. The Kgalema Mothlanthe
Commission, established to investigate the August 2018 killings,
concluded that “the use of live ammunition directed at people
especially when they were fleeing was clearly unjustified and

In his report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Special
Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
and of Association in June 2020, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule,
has strongly criticised President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s
administration for its “over-reliance on the military to quell
dissent.” He stated that there was no justification for the
government’s use of excessive force to restrict freedoms of
association, assembly, and expression which are enshrined in
the country’s constitution.

Zimbabwe authorities must respect human rights and stop
using excessive military force to intimidate, harass and
suppress dissent. The right of everyone to strike or participate
in collective action, in conformity with the laws of the country,
is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR), to which Zimbabwe is a party.
Threat of Arrests and Enforced Disappearances
There are reports of alleged harassment, threats and attempts
to arrest activists and union leaders, such as ZCTU leader Peter
Mutasa, the president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers
Union, Obert Masaraure, MDC Deputy National Chairman,
Job Sikhala and leader of Tajamuka pressure group, Promise

The president of Transform Zimbabwe, Jacob Ngarivhume
and prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono were arrested on
20 July and are facing charges of inciting people to participate
in a public gathering with the intention of committing public
violence. Amnesty International calls on Zimbabwe authorities
to immediately drop the charges and release Hopewell Chin’ono
and Jacob Ngarivhume. These activists are allegedly the
organizers of the planned mass protest on 31 July and their
arrest is designed to intimidate and silence journalists and other
human rights defenders publicly discussing matters of public
interest. Chin’ono has recently made allegations of corruption
in the Ministry of Health involving US$60 million worth of Covid
19 procurement of supplies contracts awarded to suppliers at
inflated prices. Zimbabwe authorities have a history of silencing
dissent and voices demanding accountability by using selective
targeted prosecution and enforced disappearances. Amnesty
International is concerned about the security of other activists
against the history of enforced disappearances, as was the case
for Itai Dzamara, whose whereabouts remain unknown to date.

Amnesty International is concerned about the potential loss
of life from threatened violence by ruling party youths and the
warnings of unleashing members of the military on protestors.
We call upon the Zimbabwe authorities to:

  1. Stop the deployment of military personnel as well as
    use of excessive force and firearms to suppress dissent
    and to manage public protests, in line with the UN Basic
  2. Stop targeting, harassing and threatening activists and
    human rights defenders ahead of the planned protests.
  3. Drop charges and immediately release Hopewell
    Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume.
  4. Ensure that any law enforcement officer who exercises
    abusive and arbitrary use of force and firearms is brought
    to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and
    without recourse to death penalty.
  5. Compensate any victims who may be subjected to
    violence and excessive use of force and firearms by the
    police and military personnel.
  6. Arrest and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence,
    prosecute law enforcement officials responsible for the
    killings and torture of protesters in August 2018 and
    January 2019.
  7. Promptly accede to the Rome Statute of the International
    Criminal Court and the International Convention for the
    Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
    For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
    Robert Shivambu, Media Manager, Amnesty International
    Zimbabwe Office on +27 11 283 6000 or +27 83 437 5732 or
    [email protected]

Amnesty International Southern Africa Regional Office,
97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg 2196
+2711 283 6000
email: [email protected]
twitter: @amnestypress or @AmnestySARO