JOHANNESBURG - Supporters of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe used rape to terrorize the political opposition during last year's contested elections, international human-rights activists said yesterday.
AIDS-Free World, led by former UNAIDS envoy Stephen Lewis, released a 64-page report that documents 380 rapes it said were committed by Mugabe loyalists.
About 70 women linked to Zimbabwe's opposition detailed to the group how they were raped, kept as sex slaves, and even forced to watch their daughters being raped. Ten became pregnant following the attacks, and many believe they were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"These women were raped because they were politically defiant," said Betsy Apple, the organization's legal director. "It was meant to punish them and their communities."
Efforts to get comment from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party on the report were not successful yesterday.
Groups monitoring the March 2008 elections reported scores of deaths and thousands of cases of illegal arrests, assaults, and rapes by militias operating in cities and out of countryside camps. Election officials declared that a runoff was needed after the vote, but opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out, citing attacks against his supporters.
Mugabe was later declared the winner, but he formed a unity government in February with Tsvangirai as prime minister. Many, though, fear that the coalition will collapse because of a lack of cooperation from Zimbabwe's longtime ruler.
"The politically orchestrated and systematic campaign of sexual violence unleashed against women who supported the opposition carves yet another chapter in the annals of Robert Mugabe's legacy of depravity," Lewis said.
The rapes documented by Lewis' organization began in 2007 but increased dramatically in 2008, with 64 percent occurring between the March election and the June runoff, when tensions in Zimbabwe were at their height.
All the women said their rapists were clearly identifiable as ZANU-PF supporters. Sometimes they were in mobs of up to 200 men who terrorized locals. Activists are calling on Zimbabwe's neighbors and the international community to help ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.