Report produced by the Research & Advocacy Unit in partnership with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA). This report documents real accounts and the lived experiences and conditions subjected to 20 women activists who were incarcerated having been on the front lines of defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe.


The Global Political Agreement (GPA) of 15.09.2008 was welcomed by women as it acknowledges the equality between men and women and recognizes women’s role in nation building and the abuses they suffered in the process, and continue to suffer, but it must be noted that women’s representation at the negotiations which led to this agreemenbt was minimal and the issues affecting women were primarily decided by men. What remains to be seen is how the clauses in the GPA will be implemented and what real impact it will have on women’s lives. The GPA does not look at women as a specific group, but, under Articles 7(a) and(d), combines them with the other generic groupings - race, age, gender and political affiliation.This suggests that the parties have not regarded women as a particularly vulnerable group in a time of crisis, which they obviously are. This has to be acknowledged in the implementation of the clauses in the GPA that relate to the position of women

The article explores the effectiveness of the use of an empowerment workshop, called the Tree of Life, in the treatment of torture survivors. The approach is based on a survivor-to-survivor model of assistance. The Tree of Life is a group-based approach to the healing and empowerment of survivors of organized violence and torture. It is facilitated by survivors themselves who have been trained and supervised in the methodology. It uses the metaphor of the tree to provide a framework for understanding the trauma experience, and, through a series of inter-related processes, leads the survivor into an appreciation of his or her strengths and the support of the community in surviving.

This paper falls into two main sections. The first section provides a brief overview of organised violence and torture in Zimbabwe, mainly drawing on statistics from the 2001-2009 period, but in some cases going back further. Figures showing the kinds of abuse inflicted and its frequency provide evidence of the extent to which Zimbabweans have suffered during this period of complex emergency, when the infrastructure of the country has collapsed around them. The second section - Developing a response: learning from experience elsewhere, presents in brief the shifts in thinking in this field which have occurred over the last two decades as a result of experience in post-conflict situations round the world.

Civil society has long anticipated the current dynamics and questions facing those concerned with transitional justice in Zimbabwe. In 2003, against the background of inter-party talks about possible transition, a Symposium was held in Johannesburg, which made comprehensive recommendations on the ways to manage the consequences of organized violence and torture, including ways in which truth, accountability and healing should take place. However, it is apparent that the national situation has changed (and deteriorated) considerably since 2003. A strong argument can be made that Zimbabwe now conforms to the kind of situation currently termed a “complex emergency”. In the context of economic collapse, the collapse of all supportive services [health and social welfare], severe food shortages, and mass violence, Zimbabwe resembles a country at war, but without the obvious features of war. The types of trauma reported, especially in the past five years, conform in most respects to those seen in obvious times of war - the profiles for the pre-Independence period and Matabeleland in the period 1980 to 1987 are markedly similar to that seen nationally since 2000.

Whilst there is continual reference to the suffering of those affected by the Zimbabwe crisis, particularly in reference to Operation Murambatsvina and the burgeoning food crisis, insufficient attention has been given to the mental health consequences, both psychological and social, of the massive social upheaval and organized violence and torture that has accompanied the crisis.This paper seeks to begin to fill this gap.

One of the greatest challenges in the aftermath of any violent conflict is the issue of accountability for serious human rights violations. Although impunity continues to characterise many post-conflict situations, since the end of World War 2 there has been perceptible progress in efforts towards securing justice and accountability and in undertakings to build polities based on fundamental rights and freedoms and respect for the rule of law. Although there is much work still to be done in this regard, addressing the rights of victims and survivors is increasingly recognised as an essential component of any credible efforts designed to tackle issues of justice and accountability, which are themselves integral components of building the foundations of a sustainable democratic culture. Policies of amnesia and avoidance, which have characterised so much of the past, are under attack and, in the words of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the preference fordoing nothing is no longer an option.”

Transitional justice has become an increasing concern for Zimbabweans, and even more so in the past nine years. There have been attempts to discuss this issue in the past beginning with the publication of the CCJP/LRF report on the gross human rights violations of the 1980s. A more substantive consideration of the transitional justice options took place in Johannesburg in 2003, which recommended the setting up of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to cover the violations from 1960 to 2003. One of the recommendations of the 2003 Symposium was for wide consultation with the victims, but mostly this did not take place, with some very minor exceptions. The present study was a small pilot study of the views of ordinary Zimbabweans, who were selected for the likelihood that they had been victims of the political violence and gross human rights violations since 2000.

Zimbabwe’s health services now resemble a country in a state of war according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. This is not surprising. With each passing year the political psychopathology of Zimbabwe degenerates from mere neurosis towards frank political psychosis. When will the world decide that Robert Mugabe and his Government have lost touch with reality and are deserving of enforced care? When will the world decide that the Zimbabwe Government is in default of its responsibility to protect?

The treatment of women during times of conflict has led to a group of women’s organisations and activists from all over the world coming up with a declaration which addresses the issue of organised violence against women. In May, 2007, the Nairobi Declaration on Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Remedy and Reparation was drafted in the belief that justice for women and girl survivors of sexual violence will never be achieved if reparations programmes are not informed and directed by those they are meant to serve. The Declaration is founded on the experiences of women and girl survivors or sexual violence and the expertise of activists helping them rebuild their lives. This paper considers the Declaration in the context of Zimbabwe.