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Rights group urges ICC to probe Zimbabwe pre-election rights violations

Human rights organization AIDS-Free World [advocacy website] on Wednesday renewed calls [press release, PDF] for an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] investigation into allegations of rape and torture in Zimbabwe prior to the 2008 presidential elections [JURIST report]. AIDS-Free World released a report [text, PDF; press release] last December, detailing the systematic rape of female supporters of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] candidate Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile] by supporters of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. According to the report, 70 victims were interviewed, and the group was able to document 380 rapes committed by 241 perpetrators in the weeks leading up to the presidential elections. The documented rapes followed similar patterns, with comparable rhetoric about the MDC being used before and after the rapes and the victims being subjected to similar tortures including arbitrary detentions and repeated beatings. The crimes were allegedly committed by members of the ZANU-PF youth militia, war veterans and security forces under the control of Mugabe. The group also contends that many of the women were threatened with HIV and that 37-percent of the victims interviewed have now tested positive for the virus. AIDS-Free World is urging the ICC to launch proceedings against the perpetrators of the rapes for crimes against humanity, as well as those in a position of power, such as Mugabe, who had the authority to order the rapes. The group expressed concern about the continued impunity for the crimes, stating that if the international community does not take action, similar intimidation tactics could be used in future elections. A new election could be called in Zimbabwe as soon as 2011.

Zimbabwe's 2008 elections [JURIST news archive] were marred by allegations of fraud [JURIST report] and government ballot rigging. Zimbabwe police arrested several members of the MDC prior to the election, allegedly to prevent the MDC party from participating in the election and the UN criticized both parties for rights abuses [JURIST reports] leading up to the election. A period of uncertainty also followed the elections, after the ruling government initially refused to release election results, and then announced that a run-off election was needed [JURIST reports] because Tsvangirai had won a slim majority of the votes, but not enough to claim outright victory. Mugabe ran unopposed in the run-off election after Tsvangirai withdrew his candidacy and sought refuge at the Dutch embassy. The results of the run-off election were condemned by the international community [JURIST report] as being neither transparent nor impartial, and the government of Mugabe has been called illegitimate.

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