October 19, 2021

Zimbabwe exhumations must be carried out by forensic pathologists

While the High Court of Bulawayo this week ordered the end of the exhumation of bodies from a mass grave by Zanu-PF, Amnesty International intervened and called for the involvement of forensic experts.
The human rights organization has warned that hundreds of bodies recently discovered in a mass grave in the Mount Darwin region of northern Zimbabwe may never be identified unless professional forensic experts carry out the investigation. exhumations.
Bodies have been shown on Zimbabwean television being wrapped in plastic bags and old bags awaiting burial, raising concerns that evidence may be lost.
This week, Judge Nicholas Mathonsi granted a ban requested by the Zimbabwe People’s Liberation Army that exhumations at Mount Darwin, and any other part of the country, should be carried out as part of a “legal process.” government-led.
The Fallen Heroes Trust, a hitherto obscure group aligned with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and its former military wing, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, claims to have unearthed 640 bodies and thousands more could still be in the Monkey William mine. . He claims the remains are fighters killed in the 1970s bush war for independence from white minority rule.
But the ban granted by Mathonsi forces the trust to stop the exhumations, leading to a government process that will seek to identify the remains where possible and facilitate the reburial.
But Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa, said: “It is (the grave) a crime scene and the exhumations require professional forensic expertise to enable proper identification, determination of the cause of death and criminal investigations. These disturbing images (on television) raise questions that the Zimbabwean authorities must answer.
“Exhumations require professional forensic expertise to enable proper identification, determination of cause of death and criminal investigations.
“The families of the victims expect the bodies to be identified and decent burials in accordance with traditional and religious practice. As such, these bodies cannot simply be recorded in history without proper forensic testing to determine who the people died and how and why they died, ”Kagari said.
At the beginning of last month, the public television Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC-TV) reported the exhumation of hundreds of bodies at a site of the Monkey William / Chibondo mine in the Mount Darwin district. He claimed the bodies were those of people killed by the Rhodesian forces of Prime Minister Ian Smith in the 1970s during the country’s War for Independence.
Co-Home Secretary Kembo Mohadi later told ZBC-TV that the government should resume Fallen Heroes Trust exhumations.
However, given the scale of the human remains found so far and the government’s failure to immediately secure the site, Amnesty is concerned that international best practice in exhumations may not be followed.
“The government of Zimbabwe must ensure that exhumations are carried out professionally in accordance with international standards and, if possible after identification, return the remains to family members,” Kagari said.
“If the government of Zimbabwe does not have the capacity to undertake these exhumations properly, it must seek international cooperation and assistance to ensure that forensic experts can undertake the exhumations,” she said.
The mismanagement of these mass graves has serious consequences for the potential exhumation of other sites in Zimbabwe.
Thousands of civilians were also killed by Zanu-PF state security forces in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the mid-1980s and were reportedly buried in mine shafts and mass graves in those provinces. regions.


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