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Editorial Comment: Army must go back to barracks

The widespread reports of rape and unprovoked assault of citizens including women and children are very disturbing.

Editorial Comment

The recent attacks follow the three-day national unrest last week where 12 people were reportedly killed, most of them shot dead by police and soldiers.

Cornered by the deluge of such incriminating reports and international condemnation, government has promised to investigate the abuse claims.

Reports of several women that were raped by soldiers have started to emerge, corroborated by video and pictorial evidence of women relating their sexual ordeal at the hands of soldiers.

The reports have shocked the world whose angry reaction has pulled the government out of its cruel arrogance. But even then, the government sincerity about its intention to take action remains questionable given the condition it has given for investigations to take place.

Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage minister Ambassador Cain Mathema said on Friday that he was deeply concerned about the rape reports and in particular video footage of “bruised women alleging rape and sexual abuse at the hands of security forces”. He said: “We take these rape allegations very seriously and investigations will be instituted immediately once complainants file reports with the police.”

We take the minister’s statement to mean that although he watched the video footage of “bruised” women relating their encounter with soldiers and how they were raped, investigations would only commence after the victims go to the police to report.

The fact that the women in the video footage declined to have their faces shown in the recording explains the unique nature of their situation. They are ashamed of the sexual violation and they are scared of further victimisation by their attackers. Both these reasons are very valid.

The shame that comes with being raped is huge and their fear is real. In almost all instances, soldiers and the police were deployed together and in many cases they committed these atrocities together.

In fact, police and soldiers have reportedly been hunting down their victims at clinics, hospitals and other “safe houses” where injured people were receiving treatment, taking them away. It is clear therefore why hundreds of victims of police and army brutality will not go to the police to report.

We therefore urge the government to take the initiative to find the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and bring them to book. Claiming that they can only do so after victims hand themselves over to their tormentors is a lame excuse to justify their usual impunity.

Some of these crimes against humanity continue to be perpetrated by soldiers who remain deployed across the country long after the three-day protests ended two weeks ago.

Yesterday the soldiers took their brutalisation of citizens to a new level. They were harassing and beating up civilians while forcing them to destroy their sources of livelihood — tuckshops and market stalls in Chitungwiza and across Harare.

This continued provocation of the people could be a prelude to further unrest in the country. The army must just go back to the barracks.

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