1. Summary

Zimbabwe is in a humanitarian crisis that is the result of a political crisis. A cholera epidemic has-as of January 12, 2009-left over 39,000 people infected and at least 2,000 dead, with the disease spreading to neighboring countries. This marks both the collapse of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system and the calculated disregard for the welfare of Zimbabweans by the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The country is experiencing the sharpest rise in infant mortality in its history, and maternal mortality rates have tripled since the mid-90s. Meanwhile, over five million Zimbabweans face severe food shortages and are dependent on international aid. Making matters worse, ZANU-PF’s repeated political interference in the work of humanitarian agencies and its attempts to conceal the extent of the disaster have severely hampered international efforts to help tackle these multiple crises.

ZANU-PF’s longstanding assault on political freedoms and civil rights lies at the heart of Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis. While political violence, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions by the government of President Robert Mugabe peaked in the weeks leading up to the run-off presidential elections in June 2008, they have continued to the present as ZANU-PF uses repression to back its dubious claim to power. Over 40 supporters from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and human rights activists have “disappeared” or been arbitrarily detained since November 2008. ZANU-PF controlled police units continue to violently break up peaceful protests, and routinely arrest and harass MDC activists.

Despite the ongoing and massive violations of Zimbabweans basic rights, African governments have largely remained on the sidelines. The bi-annual summit of African Heads of State in Addis Ababa from January 26 to February 3, 2009, provides African leaders with a crucial opportunity to intervene effectively to end Zimbabwe’s long-standing political crisis.

African leaders need to move beyond the failed mediation efforts of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Only concerted pressure on the Mugabe government can end Zimbabwe’s unprecedented humanitarian emergency and the regional crisis it has created.

Hopes for an end to Zimbabwe’s crisis were raised on September 15, 2008 when ZANU-PF and the MDC, with much fanfare from SADC and its mediator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, signed a Global Political Agreement (GPA) in which both parties committed to acting in a manner that demonstrated respect for democratic values and human rights. Many Zimbabweans and concerned outsiders hoped the agreement would end ZANU-PF’s abusive practices, lead to a credible government of national unity, bring about the reengagement of foreign donors, and lead to a gradual recovery in the country’s economic and social conditions.

Human Rights Watch and others warned that such an agreement would fail unless ongoing human rights abuses ceased and those responsible were held to account. Yet the continued absence of accountability in Zimbabwe remains a major block to progress. ZANU-PF has not honored the letter and spirit of the GPA: four months since it was signed, ZANU-PF violations of basic human rights continue and its policies have deepened the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Increasingly, Zimbabwe is a sub-regional crisis. Political and economic instability, the cholera outbreak, and severe food insecurity have driven thousands of Zimbabweans into neighboring countries. Cholera has spread from Zimbabwe to South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique. In December 2008, South Africa in effect acknowledged the regional nature of the crisis by calling the spread of cholera from Zimbabwe to its border town of Musina “a disaster.” The African Union (AU) should follow suit and openly acknowledge that the situation in Zimbabwe threatens the entire region.

The AU also has an opportunity to succeed where South Africa and SADC have failed. The AU Charter identifies respect for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as universal values and says that all states party to it must promote and adhere to them. By putting human rights at the core of the Zimbabwe crisis and acting swiftly against those who disregard them, AU leaders can create a credible basis for affecting a positive resolution.

Human Rights Watch calls on the AU to insert itself formally into the mediation process as impartial arbiters. If not, even greater numbers of Zimbabweans will suffer political persecution and the horrendous humanitarian conditions in their country, inevitably deepening and widening the regional crisis.

  1. Recommendations

To the African Union (AU)

Publicly condemn ongoing abuses by the ZANU-PF authorities, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and torture and other mistreatment.

Ensure that mediation on Zimbabwe is led and staffed by a new team of independent facilitators appointed by the AU, who should in turn set basic principles, specific benchmarks, and timelines for resolving the crisis.

In accordance with the AU Charter, suspend the Zimbabwe government from the AU if-within a specific timeframe-it does not implement or meet specific human rights and good governance benchmarks. These should include an end to politically motivated violence, enforced disappearances, torture, and the release of MDC and civil society activists who are being arbitrarily detained.

Urge full accountability for the perpetrators of human rights abuses, including prosecutions of all persons responsible in accordance with international due process standards, as well as appropriate remedies for victims of abuses.

Call on the Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee and facilitate unfettered access for humanitarian organizations and UN agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to all vulnerable persons.

Call on the Zimbabwean authorities to take steps to improve access to the availability of food and farming inputs and make serious efforts to end corruption at all levels of the food importation and distribution process.

To Members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

Request the involvement of the AU in leading the mediation process and work with the AU in pressing ZANU-PF to end abuses.

Ensure that mediation initiatives are led and staffed by a new team of independent facilitators appointed by the AU.

Maintain tight controls on SADC funded aid for the humanitarian crisis and implement all aspects of SADC relief efforts through UN agencies or local and international NGOs.

To International Donors (including the US, the UK and other EU members)

  • Continue to withhold non-humanitarian development aid to Zimbabwe in the absence of clear progress in promoting respect for human rights, including key human rights reforms; set specific benchmarks and closely monitor progress.
  • Maintain targeted travel sanctions and asset freezes against ZANU-PF and its leadership until it meets specific human rights and good governance benchmarks.
  • Channel humanitarian assistance through the UN and NGOs and respond generously to UN agency appeals for Zimbabwe, in order to enable agencies responding to the humanitarian crisis to provide adequate levels of food, medical care, and other humanitarian assistance to those in need.
  • Demand that programs funded by donor governments are not used by the Zimbabwean authorities for political purposes and that all international aid reaches Zimbabweans in need.

To UN Agencies

Actively protest the government’s deliberate obstruction of humanitarian programs, including through public representations.

Ensure strict accountability for aid provided through official bodies-monitor aid to ensure it reaches those most in need.

Through timely and regular reporting, ensure that senior UN officials and donors are kept informed of the humanitarian situation and encouraged to impress upon the government its obligations to comply with human rights standards with respect to the rights to food and health. WFP workers, NGO staff, and local authorities involved in food distribution should re-emphasize the principle of non-discrimination by talking to communities, local leadership, district and provincial authorities, party members and leaders, and any others involved in food relief programs.

Work closely with local NGOs and community based organizations to target international aid distribution to those most in need, irrespective of real or suspected political affiliation.


Urgently impress upon the government of Zimbabwe its responsibility to assist and protect Zimbabweans in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and the unacceptability of obstructing efforts of the international community to help the population in need.

To the Human Rights Council

Call on relevant Special Procedures to investigate the denial of the rights to adequate food and health, including access to medical care, of Zimbabwean citizens by the Zimbabwean authorities and report back to the Human Rights Council.

Hold a Special Session on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Condemn attacks against human rights defenders and task the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to investigate attacks against human rights defenders committed since the elections were held in 2008 and present a report to the Human Rights Council.

III. Methodology

This report is based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Zimbabwe between November 16 and 30, 2008, in the provinces of Mashonaland East and West, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Harare.

Human Rights Watch conducted more than 50 interviews with representatives of local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian agencies,  United Nations officials, MDC officials, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Grain and Marketing board, lawyers, health experts, agricultural experts, economists, victims of human rights violations, and members of the diplomatic community. Telephone interviews were also conducted with local and international NGOs, lawyers, and victims of human rights violations between August 2008 and January 2009.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed reports from humanitarian organizations and UN agencies, government policy documents and available statistics, and other public documents related to Zimbabwe’s humanitarian and human rights situation.

The names of all those interviewed for this report have been withheld for security reasons.

  1. The Humanitarian Crisis and the State’s Failure to Respond

Zimbabwe is in the midst of an all-encompassing humanitarian crisis that has seen an almost total collapse in the delivery of basic government sanitation, health, and welfare services.

To date the Zimbabwean authorities have demonstrated neither the will nor the capacity to address the crisis and protect Zimbabweans from its consequences. Repressive government and extensive corruption have led directly to an interlinked economic collapse, a humanitarian crisis and growing public desperation. In doing so, the ZANU-PF government has violated the basic rights of Zimbabweans to food, health and clean water.

Statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) show that Zimbabwe has the world’s fourth-highest rate of HIV prevalence and has recently seen an unprecedented reversal of progress on child mortality. For example, mortality rates for children under the age of five have risen from 76 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 105 per 1,000 live births.[1] UNICEF says that the hardest hit in Zimbabwe are:

populations affected by serious food insecurity, HIV and cholera outbreaks as well as those displaced during the fast-track land reform program, Operation Murambatsvina (OM) and more recent re-evictions.[2] The more chronic vulnerabilities include inadequate access to basic social services, lack of agricultural inputs and disrupted livelihoods.[3]

Maternal mortality has been steadily rising since the mid 1990’s, and was at an alarming 880 per 100,000 live births in 2005, the last year for which World Health Organization data is available.[4]

Deaths from cholera in Zimbabwe’s main cities and townships are mounting, and health, water and sanitation services have collapsed. The cholera outbreak has left over 39,000 Zimbabweans infected and over 2,000 dead, but is only one of a growing array of healthcare disasters.[5]  For example, 1.3 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV/AIDS, yet only 110,000 of the 480,000 people in urgent need of anti-retro-viral therapy (ART) are currently receiving it.[6]

Because of disruptions in the supply of drugs, food shortages, and transportation difficulties, many of those who do receive ART may not be able to consistently ensure access to their daily medicines, leading to the development of drug resistant HIV strains and treatment failure leading to premature mortality.[7] With collapsing living conditions and the emerging HIV epidemic, Zimbabwe has seen a resurgence in cases of tuberculosis-six times more cases in 2008 than 20 years previously. And cure rates for those put on treatment are just 54 percent.

Food Insecurity

Zimbabwe has suffered from food shortages since 2000 when the Mugabe government embarked on a violent and illegal program of land seizures.[8] An estimated 5.1 million Zimbabweans-half the population-are expected to need food aid in 2009.[9]

Food output in Zimbabwe has deteriorated drastically in the past year. The UN World Food Program (WFP) estimates that maize production in 2008 was 575,000 metric tons-28percent below 2007’s historically low level.[10] Maize is Zimbabwe’s staple but many villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Mashonaland East, West, Masvingo, Midlands and Manicaland provinces said that they were either living on one meal of sadza (maize meal) a day or on wild fruit.

On October 9, 2008, WFP appealed for US$140 million for vital relief rations in Zimbabwe for the following six months.[11] It estimated a cereal gap for the period April 2008 to March 2009 of 1.2 million tons.

The Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM-a joint body of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP) determined that Zimbabwe’s poor main cereal harvest in 2008 was due to a combination of adverse weather conditions, a lack of key agricultural inputs (fertilizer and tractors), crumbling irrigation systems, and disincentives caused by government price controls.[12]

As a result of severe food shortages, levels of chronic malnutrition among children under age five have increased, so that 28 percent are chronically malnourished.[13] Hyper-inflation of over 231 million percent has eroded the capacity of families to access the little food available on the market, an especially acute problem for people living in urban areas with no access to land. Maize remains unavailable in most shops. Where it is available on the black market, it is pegged to the US dollar, pricing it out of reach for the average Zimbabwean household. When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Zimbabwe in November the price of a 20 kilogram bucket of maize meal was US$20, unaffordable for most people.[14] Only 6 percent of Zimbabweans are employed in the formal sector[15]. Teachers, for example, earn an average of US$4 per month.[16]

Six local and international agriculturalists told Human Rights Watch that the 2008-9 farming season would fail because many farmers were unable to get seed and fertilizers due to disruption in farming during the 2007-8 season. They presented a picture that placed primary responsibility on the Zimbabwe authorities for the increased food insecurity in the country, citing:

Poor agricultural policies that led to the late distribution of farming inputs such as seed and fertilizer by the Zimbabwe authorities;[17]

State-sponsored violence after the general elections in March 2008;

Corruption within state-run agricultural institutions such as the Grain and   Marketing Board (GMB) and by ZANU-PF’s political elite.

Each of these factors is discussed below.

Late Distribution of Farming Inputs

Agriculturalists informed Human Rights Watch that the late distribution of farming inputs by the Zimbabwe authorities as a result of poor agricultural policies and corruption was one of the main causes of the decrease in cereal production in the country. Tillage of farms needs to be done before the rains and all preparations should be ready by at least September 1 for rains that normally come between late October and November. An FAO/WFM assessment mission report to Zimbabwe in May 2008 found that the delayed supply of inputs was one of the major factors that affected the productivity of the 2007-8 crops.[18] The assessment mission advised Zimbabwean authorities to ensure that seed was easily accessible by farmers on the open market and made available in a timely manner. However, this did not take place. Late distribution of seed and other farming inputs and unavailability of seed is likely to be a major factor in low maize production next season.

One agriculturalist told Human Rights Watch:

Agricultural production is about the availability of inputs. Seed is always released too late by the government. It gets on the market too late. Yields decline by more than half between November and December planting.[19]

A farmer made the same point to Human Rights Watch:

I benefited from the government Champion Farmer Programme. I was promised 10 bags of Compound D fertilizer, 10 bags of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer and 50kgs of maize seed but l only got 50kgs of seed. The seed was delivered…on November 18, …too late for this agricultural season…In any case l was already surviving on wild fruits so l had to sell 10 kilograms of that seed and then l washed the treated seed and ground it into maize meal so that my family [could] survive…a few more weeks.[20]

Analysts estimate that the number of Zimbabweans needing food assistance is likely to increase in 2009 due to unavailability of seed and other farming inputs.

State-Sanctioned Post-Election Violence

The protracted violence throughout Zimbabwe in the months after general elections in March 2008 added to food insecurity in the country. Human Rights Watch has collected evidence that shows that state-sponsored groups such as the ZANU-PF sponsored “youth militia” and “war veterans,” state security forces, and supporters systematically killed livestock, and destroyed and plundered the homes and food granaries (reserves) of thousands of suspected MDC activists and supporters in order to ensure their displacement and inability to vote.[21] An estimated 36,000 Zimbabweans were displaced by the violence and left in need of food, water, and shelter.[22] Looted food was given to soldiers, youth militia, and ZANU-PF supporters at camps that had been set up throughout the country and used to beat and torture MDC supporters.

On May 13, Augustino Zacarias, the UN Country Team Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Zimbabwe, released a statement expressing concern over the politically motivated violence and the rising humanitarian problems. He expressed worries about those who fled their homes-out of fear of reprisals-and lacked food, shelter, and other basic social services, which could trigger unprecedented humanitarian needs.[23] On May 28, UNICEF released a similar statement denouncing the political violence that had “displaced at least 10,000 children” in Zimbabwe, and was “affecting the continued delivery of humanitarian relief to children and their families in parts of the country.”[24]

The violence also prevented local farmers from tending their farms and preparing for the 2007-8 planting season. A farm manager in Chegutu, Mashonaland West, told Human Rights Watch, “During the election period just before the run-off, ZANU-PF supporters came and raided the farmworkers’ farms and took all of their maize stock. They came on June 18, about 30 of them, all wearing ZANU-PF tee-shirts.”[25]

Another farmer in Chegutu told Human Rights Watch that “Instead of spending time on our farms to prepare for the rainy season we were forced [by ZANU-PF] to spend days attending political meetings. The political violence did not help as many of us were forced to flee our homes and leave our farms.”[26]

In its June 2008 report on the post election violence, Human Rights Watch highlighted how the government of Zimbabwe bore by far the greatest responsibility for the widespread violence, including looting of property and food reserves, which took place around the country.[27] The report also highlighted how the Zimbabwe police had failed to investigate the thousands of cases of violence perpetrated by ZANU-PF officials, state-sponsored groups, and the security forces, and how not a single perpetrator from these groups had been brought to justice.

The UN’s Zimbabwe 2009 Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) document also found that the impact of humanitarian agencies’ long period of absence from the field, partly due to the violence, had a “detrimental impact on the food security situation in 2008 and hindered the collection of first hand information on the real needs of communities and gaps in the humanitarian response.”[28]

Corruption and Discriminatory Government Policies on Food

Three economists told Human Rights Watch that protracted and endemic corruption within ZANU-PF has led to a situation of acute economic disparity.[29] They add that a very few individuals have been acquiring vast wealth while the majority of the population (over 90 percent of whom are estimated to be unemployed) continues to face increasingly severe deprivation.

On December 14, 2007, in an address to ZANU-PF’s congress, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), Gideon Gono, accused senior ZANU-PF officials of corruption and stated that the country lost an estimated US$1.7 billion per year “through economic sabotage perpetuated by the few” with the knowledge or complicity of government officials.[30]

Human Rights Watch has found no evidence that the Zimbabwe authorities are taking any serious steps to address corruption in relation to food insecurity. Conversely, we found that individuals within ZANU-PF have exploited their political connections to secure preferred access to scarce commodities like maize meal and farming inputs for export or for sale locally at exorbitant prices. Endemic corruption has aggravated food insecurity and exacerbated the food shortages. In February 2007, Gideon Gono also accused the country’s leadership of encouraging the growth of corruption and cited the “ridiculous” practices of the state’s Grain Marketing Board (GMB) as fueling corrupt practices.”[31]

Corrupt practices by ZANU-PF officials have also led to severe shortages of seed and other farming inputs such as fertilizer. Many of the government’s agricultural policies have benefitted-seemingly by design-the political elite and larger-scale farmers. Agricultural experts and small-scale farmers told Human Rights Watch that official policy and supply of seeds and other inputs were highly politicized and affected by corruption.[32]

The government’s most recent policy, the “Champion Farmer Program” (also known as the Master Farmer Program), was supposed to provide seeds, fertilizer and farm implements to farmers with a good farming productivity record.[33] Several farmers who qualify for the program told Human Rights Watch that they believe the program was being used for political purposes and that most of those included in the program were ZANU-PF loyalists. For example, in two Midlands constituencies won by the MDC during the March 2008 general elections, no farmers have benefited from the Champion Farmer Program, even though many qualified.

In a case in Mashonaland East province, local ZANU-PF officials threatened an official of the Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX)-an Agriculture Ministry department responsible for distributing food and fuel-accusing them of being pro-MDC after distributing inputs to all qualified local farmers whatever their political leaning.[34]

Agriculturalists told Human Rights Watch that the selling of seed on the black market has also affected seed production capacity. As one expert put it:

Inputs imported from outside end up in the hands of the politically well connected that don’t put them to good use but sell them on the black market. Seed is now unavailable and farmers can’t plant.[35]

Agriculturists and economists say that there has been gross misuse of RBZ funds marked for agricultural production. Human Rights Watch did not find first-hand evidence of this, but 20 small-scale farmers[36] in Mashonaland East, Masvingo, and Midlands provinces reported that the RBZ had diverted subsidized maize seed, fuel, and cheap tractors meant for the Champion Farmer Program to local ZANU-PF officials and governors who then sold them on the black market at high prices. It is unclear how many farmers have benefited from the Champion Farmer Program or related programs and how much the RBZ has actually spent. Zimbabwean officials seldom release figures of RBZ spending on programs.

Local farmers and a senior employee from the state-run Grain Marketing Board informed Human Rights Watch that the GMB has also been involved in corruption. GMB managers appointed by ZANU-PF illegally secure maize from the GMB and sell it on the black market. Some local ZANU-PF officials prevent traders and private persons from moving and selling maize to people at competitive prices.[37]  For example, farmers in Mashonaland East told Human Rights Watch that a ZANU-PF official and former military officer was preventing local businessmen from selling maize locally so that he could sell his own maize, at higher prices, and only to ZANU-PF supporters. This maize was originally stocked by the local GMB distribution center.[38]

A senior GMB employee told Human Rights Watch that another program funded by the RBZ aimed at small-scale farmers-“Operation Maguta”-had mainly benefited the ZANU-PF elite.[39] According to the GMB official, the seed and stock were also used to buy off war veterans before the March 29, 2008 elections. His claim was substantiated by several farmers in the provinces that Human Rights Watch visited. Farmers and villagers said that the army was put in charge of distributing the program’s seed and fertilizer even though, according to agricultural experts, AGRITEX is qualified to do so.[40] Villagers said that instead of distributing the seed and stock to farmers, the army supplied ZANU-PF politicians, who sold them at exorbitant prices on the black market. In its earlier report on the March 29 elections, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about discriminatory practices in the distribution of state-subsidized maize by the GMB.