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CL/175/11(a)-R.2- 3 -

Geneva, 1st October 2004


In 1923 the British proclaimed Zimbabwe, then called Southern Rhodesia, a self-governing British colony.  From 1953 to 1963, it was a member of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which was dissolved in 1963.  From the 1960s onwards the people of Zimbabwe were involved in a civil war to oust the colonial government which after April 1964 was led by Ian Smith.  When the British government refused to grant independence with assurances for ultimate African control, Ian Smith declared unilateral independence in November 1965, coupled with a state of emergency.  Guerrilla warfare was waged by both the armed wing of ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union, led initially by Reverend Sithole, and later Robert Mugabe, and by the armed wing of ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union under Joshua Nkomo.  In late 1976, they formed the Patriotic Front.  The civil war and the international sanctions imposed upon the country finally led Smith to agree to multi-racial elections in 1979.  Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected as the country’s first black Prime Minister. Because his government was widely perceived as a black front for continued white rule, it failed to win popular support and the civil war continued unabated. A final peace settlement with the Patriotic Front was reached in 1979 at the Lancaster House Conference in London in late 1979, and signed on December 21.  In the elections of 1980, Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF) won a landslide victory and he became Prime Minister.  Independence from the UK officially began on 17 April 1980.  It should be mentioned that under the peace agreement, a general amnesty was granted which meant that all those who had committed serious human rights violations during the 1970’s could not be prosecuted.

However, despite independence, political violence did not come to an end.  There were problems in integrating the armed wings of the two liberation movements into the National Army.  Conflicts between the ex-combatants led to the Entumbane uprisings in November 1980 and February 1981.  After arms caches were discovered in February 1982, ZANU-PF openly accused ZAPU of plotting another war and ZAPU leaders, including Joshua Nkomo, were arrested or removed from the Government.  However, the treason trial against six ZAPU leaders failed to prove the charges against them.  In early 1983, the government sent the Fifth Brigade to Matabeleland to quell dissent, in a campaign known as the Gukuruhundi (literally, the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains).  It has been estimated that at least 5,000 and as many as 10,000 to 20,000 civilians died during the Fifth Brigade’s campaign between 1983 and 1986.  In 1986, unification talks between ZANU and ZAPU started which led in 1987 to a National Unity Accord and the merging of the two parties into ZANU-PF.  

In 1987, the Constitution was amended and Robert Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s first Executive President.  He won re-election in 1996 by a large margin.  His party also won the 1990 and 1995 parliamentary elections.   

Increasing economic difficulties lead to riots in January 1998, a nation-wide general strike in March and clashes between students and police later that year, resulting in the closing of the University of Zimbabwe and Harare Polytechnic.  Also that year, Zimbabwe joined Angola and Namibia in supporting President Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which put considerable further strain on the country’s economy.  

In April 1999, a constitutional commission was established to prepare a new constitution.  The draft presented in November 1999 after a lengthy consultation process by the commission was amended by the Government so as to maintain the executive presidency.  The draft constitution also contained a clause empowering the government to seize land held by white farmers, who had to seek compensation from the UK.  In the referendum of February 2000, voters rejected the draft constitution.  In April 2000, however, a constitutional amendment allowing for the seizure of farmland was passed.  After the referendum, the invasions of farmland multiplied and hundreds of large white-owned farms were occupied and their black employees driven out2.  The Supreme Court declared the majority of the farm take-overs illegal.  On 6 September 2001, Zimbabwe signed the Abuja Commonwealth Agreement in which it undertook to halt invasions of commercial farms until the formulation of a workable land redistribution plan and to take steps to restore the rule of law and to respect human rights.  The agreement has, however, not been implemented.

2 According to reports of national and international human rights NGOs, within two years 150 people were killed, thousands tortured  and at least 70,000 rendered homeless in this process.

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