Armed with 70 sworn affidavits from rape victims, an advocacy group says it has enough evidence to warrant the prosecution of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party for crimes against humanity.
The group, co-headed by former United Nations ambassador Stephen Lewis, says the sworn testimony is powerful evidence that Mr. Mugabe and his party were responsible for a systematic campaign of rape against opposition supporters in last year's election.
In a report to be released today, the group documents the cases of 70 Zimbabwean women, all opposition supporters, who were collectively raped at least 380 times by 241 different members of the ruling party and its affiliated organizations. Their sworn affidavits were gathered by teams of lawyers who conducted more than 300 hours of interviews with the victims.
The leaders of Mr. Mugabe's party are reportedly preparing their militias for another campaign of systematic rape in the next presidential election, the report says. To stop them from doing it again, they must be prosecuted under international laws on crimes against humanity, it says.
"Continued impunity will be a green light for the next rape campaign," it says. "The infrastructure necessary for executing another campaign of rape during the next election period already exists in Zimbabwe, and there are credible claims it is being reinvigorated now."
The advocacy group, AIDS-Free World, says its investigators and lawyers found clear evidence that the rapes last year were systematic, widespread and organized, affecting thousands of victims across Zimbabwe.
It says the affidavits from the 70 women "all share a common narrative: politically motivated attacks, the orchestrated use of rape as a tool of terror and intimidation, and the deliberate effort to harm, humiliate and degrade women within their communities as a way to subjugate those communities."
In each of the 70 rape cases, the victims were supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party in last year's election. Most were organizers or activists in the party. And in each case, the report said, the perpetrators were clearly identifiable as members of the youth militia of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, or its affiliated organization of war veterans.
In 33 cases, for example, the rapists were wearing ZANU-PF shirts. In 17 cases, the attackers were singing the party's songs or chanting its slogans. And in 67 of the 70 cases, the rapists made political statements that made clear that they were ZANU-PF members, or that they were attacking the women because of their MDC involvement, the report says.
In almost every case, the women said the attacks began when their homes were surrounded by mobs of ZANU-PF supporters who looted and destroyed their property. Most of the women were abducted and taken to militia bases or bush locations, where they were raped. Others were raped in their homes.
"Each woman, on average, was raped five times, although these numbers may be underestimates because many women fell unconscious during the violent rapes and therefore lost count of the number of rapists and rapes at some point," the report says.
Many of the women said their attackers were obeying orders from leaders among them. One woman said her attackers were led by a commander who claimed that Mr. Mugabe himself had ordered the attacks. "If you meet an MDC supporter, do whatever you want to them," the commander said, quoting Mr. Mugabe, according to her testimony.
Zimbabwean police have consistently refused to investigate the rapes, the report says. Since it is virtually impossible for the attackers and organizers of the rape campaign to be prosecuted in Zimbabwe, the report proposes that they could be prosecuted in another African state such as South Africa, which has laws authorizing the prosecution of international crimes such as crimes against humanity when the alleged perpetrators are in South African territory. Zimbabweans often travel to South Africa for work or business.