Advocacy Group at Conference Discusses Rape of Women, Girls in Zimbabwe After Recent Election
The New York Times on Friday examined AIDS-Free World's investigation into the rape of hundreds of girls and women in Zimbabwe during a two-week period of "political terror ... surrounding recent elections." At the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City on Thursday, Betty Makoni of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe said, "Rape is being used as a weapon of political intimidation to instill fear in us, our families and communities." The latest United Nations report on HIV/AIDS stated that "widespread violence against women not only represents a global human rights crisis but also contributes to women's vulnerability to HIV" (Altman, New York Times, 8/8).
Makoni said mass rapes occurred after Zimbabwe's March 29 election. Many male members of the opposition party went into hiding, and militiamen in rural areas entered villages demanding that women identify brothers, husbands and fathers who were members of the opposition and beat, tortured or raped them to get the information (AFP/Africasia.com, 8/7). Youth militias have raped about 800 girls, Makoni said. Other rape survivors include wives, sisters, mothers and grandmothers of political opponents, many of whom were forced to say they would never support the opposition.
Makoni said many rape survivors have gone to state hospitals to seek treatment to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as pregnancy, but often were denied treatment. The Times reports that physicians at the hospitals did not treat the women because of fear of repercussions (New York Times, 8/8).
According to AFP/Africasia.com, "one of the biggest worries of the rape victims was that they may have become infected" with HIV. About 15% of Zimbabwe's population is reported to be HIV-positive, and the country's HIV prevalence is one of the highest in the world.
Noah Novogrodsky, legal director at AIDS-Free World, said, "We believe members of [President Robert] Mugabe's inner circle, who turned (ruling party) ZANU-PF's youth militia into rapists and killers, are responsible for crimes against humanity."
AIDS-Free World plans to send lawyers to collect testimony for potential legal action after Mugabe leaves office, AFP/Africasia.com reports. The Girl Child Network also has collected evidence from 53 women (AFP/Africasia, 8/7). Novogrodsky said the evidence would be shared with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for possible prosecution as crimes against humanity (New York Times, 8/8).
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