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Rape victims' AIDS fears

11th August 2008

Human rights workers and victims in Zimbabwe say more than 50 women in the country have been raped by government-backed militia groups during heavy violence between the two rounds of the recent presidential elections.

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Some of the women have been tested for HIV/AIDS, but it is still too early to say whether they have been infected by the rapes, some of which were carried out by up to 18 men, according to some of the women.

They were refused treatment by government doctors.

Speaking at a news conference, rights activist Betty Makoni told the stories of a 60 year-old woman who was raped by 18 militia members who said they wanted her to have a "ZANU-PF baby", denoting their allegiance to the ruling political party of president Robert Mugabe.

In another case, Makoni said a 13 year-old girl was abducted from her home and held in a youth militia camp where she was repeatedly raped and beaten.

In other cases, women were assaulted in their genitals, sustaining injuries which rendered them unable to sit down, she added.

One victim, a 53 year-old widow, said a militia group came to her house singing political songs, stole everything in her house, raped her and killed four people in a neighbouring house.

The woman, a supporter of the MDC, was speaking at an international AIDS conference in Mexico.

She said her daughter and granddaughter were also raped in the attack, after her house was looted by hundreds of youth militia members in a town near the capital Harare in June.

Rights workers said there have been 53 cases of rape reported since mid-April. Around 13 of the women have been tested for AIDS but results are inconclusive.

Women who have been raped are at higher risk of contracting AIDS, a serious danger in Zimbabwe where between 1.6 million and 1.9 million people are infected, according to the United Nations.

Noah Novogrodsky, the legal director of US-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World, said the accounts of politically motivated gang rape and practices of sexual slavery were not individual offenses, but amounted to allegations of crimes against humanity.

He blamed the members of Mugabe's inner circle for turning the ZANU-PF youth militia into rapists and killers.

Repeated attacks on supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) following the party's victory in the first round of presidential elections on 29 March led to the decision by presidential candidate and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from a second poll on 27 June, which was won by Mugabe.

Makoni, who was also a childhood rape victim, said her aim was to break the silence surrounding the use of rape by political militia members.

The MDC says more than 120 of its supporters were killed by pro-Mugabe militia in political violence since disputed elections in March. Mugabe blames the violence on the opposition.

 

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