7. Sexual Violence as Political Strategy in Zimbabwe - Oxford ...

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7. Sexual Violence as Political Strategy in Zimbabwe - Oxford ...

SEXUAL VIOLENCE AS POLITICAL STRATEGY IN ZIMBABWE:TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE BLIND SPOT?Obert HodziFebruary 2012IntroductionPre- and post-independent Zimbabwe has been marred by extreme political violence andgross human rights violations. Examples abound: the Chimoio and Nyadzonya massacres inthe 1970s, the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s, and since 2000, the unprecedentedpolitical violence that characterized elections. While these have been widely reported, the useof sexual violence as a political strategy has often been neglected. In the post-independenceera, particularly after 2000, it has grown more widespread and systematic. Yet at all stages ofpolitical transition, state-enforced amnesia, reconciliation, and ‘forgive and forget’ rhetoric isemployed. Article VII of the 2008 Global Political Agreement established The Organ forNational Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI) to advise the State on addressingpast injustices and human rights abuse. The ONHRI paid little or no regard to the genderdimensions of political violence. Without a clear gender policy on transitional justice,impunity reigns, victims have no recourse and sexual violence remains a political strategy. AsZimbabwe draws closer to yet another election, this paper examines the use of sexualviolence as a political strategy in past elections. The transitional justice discourse inZimbabwe, I argue, has been defined narrowly and unwittingly focuses on civil and politicalOxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates1


ights abuses; thus failing to capture the subtle dimensions of structural inequalities sufferedby women. Accordingly, without a known gender policy in the ONHRI, politically motivatedsexual violence remains at the fringes of transitional justice mechanisms in Zimbabwe.Sexual Violence as Political StrategyBroadly defined, sexual violence includes acts of a sexual nature committed on a personunder coercive circumstances and may include acts that do not involve physical contact orpenetration. 1 The Rome Statute has further defined rape as a crime against humanity, 2 whichis excluded from amnesty provisions. Although Zimbabwe is a non-member, the ICCdescription of rape as jus cogens places a stern responsibility on any State to judicially dealwith matters of widespread and systematic use of sexual violence as a crime againsthumanity. Worrisomely, current Zimbabwean laws, simply address random acts of sexualviolence perpetrated by an individual against another without regard to centrally organized,widespread and systematic acts. The laws, therefore, do not reflect the scale andmonumentality of rape when committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack againstcivilians. 3 Furthermore, the laws fail to integrate the principle of command responsibility,which would enable the prosecution of organizers and sponsors of organized sexual violence.Faced with general mass discontent, socio-political opposition and heightenedprospects of losing the 2008 general election, the Zimbabwe African National Union-PatrioticFront (ZANU-PF) used sexual violence to re-establish political dominance. Being a highlyconservative society that deeply holds social mores about women’s honour and sexual purity,sexual violence was seen to be effective in spreading fear and terror among Zimbabweans,dissuading thousands of potential voters from joining the Movement for Democratic Change 1 Prosecutor V. Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, Judgment, 580 (Sept. 2, 1998).2 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) Article 7 (g): Accessed at:http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/criminalcourt.htm 3 Aids-Free World (2009): Electing To Rape. Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: New York: Aids-FreeWorld, pp. 34Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates2


(MDC). As bearers and protectors of a community’s culture and future generations, womenwere targeted in ways directly linked to their gender and sexual identity. 4 In breach of UnitedNations Resolution 1820 that ‘recognized rape as a weapon of war and a threat tointernational security [… used] to humiliate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocatecivilian members of a community or ethnic group’, 5 sexual violence became a means, notonly to undermine the strength and support of other political parties, but also to demoralizeand vanquish whole communities perceived to be anti-ZANU-PF.In 2008 the primary victims of sexual violence carried out by youth gangs, warveterans, state security agents and supporters of the ZANU-PF were perceived MDC-Tsupporters. A Solidarity Peace Trust report revealed that ZANU-PF youth committed 83 percent of crimes while state agents- the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the ZimbabweNational Army (ZNA) and members of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO)committed 18 per cent. 6 The use of state security agents to commit sexual violence againstcivilians suggests a centrally organized campaign rather than spontaneous and random acts.In almost all cases, the sexual violence was nearly fatal 7 : victims were beaten, tortured andthen raped in the presence of their families and whole communities. This pattern wasrepeated in almost all provinces of the country reinforcing suspicion that it was centrallyorganized. 8Similarities in the methods used to torture and subsequently rape victims appear to besystematic and well-orchestrated. The salient resemblance in the perpetrators and victims, aswell as the uniformity of the insults and reasons for their rape suggest that it was neither 4 Leiby, L. Michele (2009): ‘Wartime Sexual Violence in Guatemala and Peru’. In: International StudiesQuarterly: Vol. 53, pp. 446.5 Research and Advocacy Unit (2011): ‘Forced Concubinage’ in Zimbabwe’. Harare: Research and AdvocacyUnit, pp. 56 Reeler, Tony (2008): Subliminal Terror: Human Rights Violations And Torture In Zimbabwe 2008.Braamfontein: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, pp. 317 Aids-Free World (2009): Electing To Rape. Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: New York: Aids-FreeWorld, pp. 10 8 Aids-Free World (2009): Electing To Rape. Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: New York: Aids-FreeWorld, pp. 17Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates3


spontaneous nor coincidental. Furthermore, refusal by the police to investigate reported casesof sexual violence indicated a state-sanctioned, albeit unofficial campaign. However, specificfigures of the number of incidences of sexual violence in 2008 remain elusive. Most caseswere not reported for fear of reprisals, stigmatization and police refusal to investigatecomplaints against ZANU-PF officials, supporters and state agents.Within international legal institutions, the use of sexual violence for purposes ofpolitical expedience constitutes a crime against humanity. Yet it has been discarded as awomen’s issue that requires no special priority in the transitional justice discourse ofZimbabwe. With the ZRP and the Attorney General refusing to investigate and prosecutepolitically-motivated cases of sexual violence, victims are left without options for justicewhile perpetrators continue with impunity. The ONHRI has also failed to mainstream genderin its programs and insisted on focusing on violations other than sexual violence. Thisposition disregards the gendered dimensions of sexual violence as well as its role in drivingpoverty, social rejection, health and other psychological problems. As a consequence,politically motivated sexual violence is marginalized in Zimbabwean transitional justiceprocesses. As such, the ONHRI has been dismissed as a largely symbolic entity without agender oriented statutory mandate or a gender policy. Two years after its establishment, itremains hinged on reconciliation and national healing without establishing accountability.The Organ for National Healing and Reconciliation: Toothless?The ONHRI is a result of protracted political negotiations that led to the signing of the GPA.The United Nations Security Council calls for the inclusion of women in peace processes 9 ,peace agreement implementation and for peace negotiations to address sexual violence. 10With the exception of Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga who participated in the entire 9 The United Nations Security Council Resolution 132510 The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates4


negotiating process leading to the GPA, no other female was visible. Consequently,implementation of the GPA and subsequent transitional justice mechanisms disregardedgender dimensions of political violence. There was, therefore, a lack of justice for genderbasedviolence and a failure to examine how gender inequalities underpin many incidences ofZimbabwean violence. Although the mere inclusion of women in peace negotiations may notautomatically guarantee gender-sensitive transitional justice frameworks, their absenceindicates total disregard of gender-sensitivity when negotiating political transition andreflects the deep-seated masculinization of Zimbabwean politics and justice.The phrase ‘politics is a dirty game’ is not only a description of the nature ofZimbabwean political conduct - it denotes a masculinized field. Coupled with a conservativepatriarchal society, women in Zimbabwe are usually confined to the political shadows untildiscovered through piecemeal affirmative action policies. Over the past three decades ZANU-PF’s violent suppression of opposition politics has shaped the gender composition ofZimbabwe’s opposition politics, activism and human rights advocacy. Resultantly mostvisible perpetrators and victims of gross civil and political rights violations are predominantlymale. As such, politics in Zimbabwe is de facto a male-dominated field that constrictstransitional justice understanding by disregarding its gendered dimensions.The effect is that the politics of Zimbabwe and resultant transitional justice processesfail to mainstream gender from policy formulation to implementation. Furthermore, theONHRI has no known gender policy towards transitional justice in the country. The outreachit undertook in local communities failed to mainstream gendered political violence. Victimsof sexual violence were largely ignored, as was the case with Ghana’s NationalReconciliation Commission where “gender based abuses were ‘subsumed’ among broaderhuman rights violations… The lack of focused attention on women… rendered gender-basedOxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates5


violence largely invisible within the process”. 11 As a result, neglect of gendered patterns ofpolitically motivated sexual violence has entrenched impunity, distorted truth findingoutcomes and undermined the legitimacy of transitional justice initiatives proffered by theONHRI.ConclusionThe transitional justice framework being pursued in Zimbabwe is oblivious of the gendereddimensions of political violence. As argued above, the intention of politicians has largelybeen to maintain peace and socio-political stability without concern for prevailing impunityand lack of accountability. Zimbabwe has failed, therefore, to acknowledge that theadministration of justice as well as social integration and rehabilitation constitute the twopillars of transitional justice management. 12 The overarching effect of ONHRI failure toformulate and implement a credible gender policy that addresses political use of sexualviolence will inevitably lead to private vengeance fuelled by widespread discontent drivingfurther oppression, social unrest and instability. Accordingly, within the ambit of transitionaljustice administration, accountability and social integration are imperative to buildingsustainable peace and development in Zimbabwe. Yet, were the political use of sexualviolence draws on a patriarchal approach to the role of women in the Zimbabwean society;the country’s transitional justice focus should not just be on dealing with the civil andpolitical dimensions of women’s rights violations, but should also address economic, social,and cultural dimensions of human rights violations, especially those of women whoseexperiences are too often under-reported. 11 Scanlon, H & Muddell, K (2009): ‘Gender and Transitional Justice in Africa: Progress and Prospects’. In:African Journal on Conflict Resolution: Vol. 9:2, pp. 10.12 Hong, Seong-Phil (2010): ‘Transitional Justice in North Korea: Accountability for Human Rights Atrocities’.1st Annual Conference of the CSIS-USC Korea Project August 20-21, 2010: University Of Southern California: Korean Studies InstituteOxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates6


Obert Hodzi is the Program Officer – Governance at the Humanist Institute for DevelopmentCooperation (HIVOS) in Zimbabwe. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree from theUniversity of Zimbabwe, a Masters in International Studies from Stellenbosch University,South Africa and a Masters’ in Democratic Governance and Civil Society from theUniversity of Osnabrueck, Germany. He is a legal practitioner registered with the High Courtof Zimbabwe.Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series: Debates7

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