Bodies recently discovered in the Mount Darwin area in northern Zimbabwe, have been shown on Zimbabwean television being bundled into plastic bags and old sacks to await re-burial increasing the risk that evidence of serious human violations could be lost.
“This is a crime scene and exhumations require professional forensic expertise to enable adequate identification, determination of cause of death and criminal investigations,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.
”Families of the victims expect the bodies to be identified and to be given decent burials in line with traditional and religious practice. As such, these bodies cannot simply be consigned to history without proper forensic tests to determine who they are and how and why they died.”
In early March 2011, the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Television (ZBC-TV) reported the exhumations of hundreds of bodies from a site in Monkey William Mine/Chibondo Mine in Mt. Darwin district.
ZBC-TV claimed the bodies are those of people killed by the Rhodesian forces in the 1970s during the country’s war of independence.
Exhumations were initially carried out by members of the Fallen Heroes Trust, a group linked to President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, before government officials took over.
On 27 March, the co-Minister of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi told ZBC-TV that the government was taking over the exhumations from the Fallen Heroes Trust.
However, given the scale of human remains discovered so far and the failings of the government to immediately secure the site, Amnesty International is concerned that international best practice on exhumations is not being adhered to.
“The Zimbabwe government must ensure that exhumations are professionally conducted according to international standards to properly establish cause of death, ensure proper identification and, where possible, to return remains to family members,” said Michelle Kagari.
”If the Zimbabwe government does not have the capacity to undertake these exhumations properly it must ask for international co-operation and assistance to ensure that forensic experts can undertake the exhumations.”
Mishandling of these mass graves has serious implications on potential exhumations of other sites in Zimbabwe. Thousands of civilians were also killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the mid 1980s and are allegedly buried in mine shafts and mass graves in these regions.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has described the Matabeleland and the Midlands massacres and the post March 2008 political murders as “senseless and systematic genocide”.
Addressing the memorial service of four Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists, murdered at the height of political violence in 2008, Tsvangirai said Zimbabweans were angry because the perpetrators of these heinous acts were walking scot-free and the police had not bothered to make a single arrest.
“There are graves in Matabeleland the Midlands provinces, innocent victims of a senseless and systematic genocide and we all wonder whether the current exhumations will spread to that corner of the country as well,” said Tsvangirai.
“I know all of us here are angry and tormented; not least because those who were close to us were violently killed by the merchants of death. Joseph Mwale, the alleged murderer of Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika in that gruesome murder in April 2000, remains in the employ of the State and a free man despite overwhelming evidence against him,” Tsvangirai added.
The MDC leader said Mwale “is a living example of the culture of impunity that has afflicted this country; a true testimony of the failure of the justice system in Zimbabwe”.
There has been no single arrest of these murderers and all perpetrators of violence and this has made the majority of our people to lose faith and confidence in the police force as a people’s institution.
The police have not acted on reports that incriminate police and intelligence agents implicated in the murders.
“We are angry because our parents, our brothers, our husbands and our wives were killed in State-sponsored violence, which is a cruel irony because it is the duty of the State to protect citizens and not harm them.
“We are angry because the Commissioner-General, Augustine Chihuri has chosen to engage in selective application of the law and to personalise what should otherwise be a State-institution,” said Tsvangirai.
The MDC leader called for “the arrest of all perpetrators of violence without fear or favour and without the needless selective application of the law”.
“In the absence of arrests and prosecution, history will record that the police force in this country folded its arms and closed its eyes while the merchants of violence killed and brutalised innocent civilians.
We are angry because once again, we are seeing the resurgence of the same culture of impunity and State-sponsored violence and I know we are all saying: ‘Not again’,” he added.
Tsvangirai commended SADC for singling out the state sponsored violence is the single major threat to democracy in Zimbabwe and stability in the whole region.
The memorial service was organised by the Heal Zimbabwe Trust which is working with the families of the victims of the post March 29 2008 election.