ZLHR statement on International day of the victims of enforced disappearances

ON International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) strongly condemns the deplorable practice of enforced disappearances.

While the prohibition of enforced disappearances and torture should be
absolute under all circumstances, it is disconcerting that in
Zimbabwe, this core principle continues to be undermined as on the eve
of commemorations to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced
Disappearances, the family of Nelson Mukwenha, a Harare resident, was
struggling to ascertain the whereabouts of a family member, after he
was forcibly abducted and disappeared on Saturday 26 August 2023 by
about four unidentified men from his residence in Highfield
high-density suburb and bundled into a Toyota Hilux vehicle with no
registration number plates.

Efforts by Mukwenha’s wife and her lawyers from ZLHR to ascertain his
whereabouts failed to yield anything as law enforcement agents at four
police stations professed ignorance of his whereabouts.

Mukwenha was only located on Monday 28 August 2023 after he was
severely tortured and dumped at some place in Mashonaland West
province and had to be hospitalised after his horrendous ordeal.

ZLHR condemns this heinous treatment of Mukwenha at the hands of his abductors.
Mukwenha’s incident is not isolated. In June 2020, some United Nations
human rights experts reported that 49 cases of abductions and torture
were recorded in Zimbabwe in 2019 without investigations leading to
perpetrators being held accountable.

It is critical for perpetrators to understand that enforced
disappearance is a cruel practice that causes ineffaceable pain to
victims, survivors and families.

In addition to ill-treating and inflicting suffering on victims,
families who go through the untold anguish of losing loved ones and
having no idea of their whereabouts or safety, endure other long-term
effects, including violating various economic, social and cultural

While in section 53, the Constitution expressly outlaws torture or
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the lack of
legislation that criminalises abductions and enforced disappearances
has created a gap in domestic law and has fuelled impunity.

This buttresses the urgent need for Zimbabwean authorities to create a
legal framework to prevent the commission of this grave human rights
violation, including providing redress for victims and survivors and
implementing real and practical measures to hold perpetrators
accountable and provide access to justice to victims and their

Since Zimbabwe is a signatory to several regional and international
instruments aimed at protecting, promoting, respecting and upholding
fundamental human rights, it is germane for authorities to
expeditiously ratify and domesticate the Convention for the Protection
of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances as advocated and
recommended by United Nations member states during successive reviews
of the country’s human rights record following the Human Rights
Council-led Universal Periodic Review mechanism and by some key
stakeholders at some sessions of the African Commission on Human and
Peoples’ Rights.

In order to arrest and prevent the prevalent climate of impunity that
has allowed the heinous crime of abductions and enforced
disappearances to continue in Zimbabwe,
ZLHR calls upon both state and non-state actors including government to;

•    Account for and ascertain the whereabouts of all the missing victims
of enforced disappearances including well-known human rights defenders
such as Itai Dzamara, Patrick Nabanyana and Paul Chizuze;

•    Ratify and domesticate the United Nations International Convention
for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

•    Criminalise enforced disappearances as a standalone offence under
domestic law and provide appropriate penalties that recognise the
seriousness of the crime;

•    Enable victims of enforced disappearances or any cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment to lodge complaints and ensure that
their complaints are promptly and adequately probed;

•    Take effective measures to prevent enforced disappearances, probe
crimes of enforced disappearance, and hold those responsible to

•    Ensure that survivors and victims’ families receive reparations,
including compensation, rehabilitation, restitution and a guarantee of

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