- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

JOHANNESBURG | Every day in Zimbabwe, Tendai has to see the people who killed his parents more than two years ago. They live in his neighborhood and have gone unpunished. James lives next door to one of the four people who beat his parents to death in July 2008, at the height of state-sponsored election violence in the southern African country.

Today, amid reports of renewed attacks as Zimbabwe plans for elections, both men say they are receiving death threats from their parents’ killers.

“We now live in perpetual fear,” Tendai told New York-based Human Rights Watch, which released a report this week warning that the country faces a “crisis of impunity” that has festered for decades and only encourages the killings, torture and beatings that have been allowed to go unpunished.

Police refuse to act on complaints, and judges are co-opted or threatened and attacked, the report said.

Tiseke Kasambala, a senior researcher for the rights group, told reporters the climate prohibited holding the elections sought by President Robert Mugabe, the ruler for 31 years.

“If reforms are not instituted, then we say that there must be no elections in Zimbabwe,” Ms. Kasambala said.

She said the president of South Africa — landlocked Zimbabwe’s powerful neighbor — and other leaders in the Southern African Development Community should make that clear to Mr. Mugabe, and strongly condemn the renewed attacks and detentions.

Ms. Kasambala said the regional body’s reaction made them “look bad,” especially when compared with the firm stand taken by the Economic Community of West African States in Ivory Coast, which has declared an opposition leader the winner of disputed elections and is demanding the incumbent step down.

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is widely thought to have won 2008 elections against Mr. Mugabe. But pressure from some Southern African leaders compelled him to form a government of national unity with Mr. Mugabe, when international condemnation failed to end an onslaught of state violence after the balloting.

At the time, Human Rights Watch documented cases showing Mr. Mugabe’s government was responsible “at the highest levels” for widespread and systematic abuses that led to the killing of up to 200 people, the beating and torture of 5,000 more, and the displacement of about 36,000 people.

The group’s report said government agencies including police, themselves implicated in the attacks, have failed to investigate hundreds of legal complaints filed by individuals, victims’ families, rights groups and Mr. Tsvangirai’s party.

“It’s a painful experience knowing that our neighbors who we see every day were the perpetrators. I feel angry,” said the report, quoting Tendai who, like James, is not further identified for fear of reprisals. “The perpetrators have made it clear at their rallies that at the next elections they will do it again because they didn’t get arrested.”

James’ father already was dead when he found his parents’ bodies on June 25, 2008.

But his mother clung to life long enough to identify some of the soldiers, officials and supporters of Mr. Mugabe’s party who had attacked them. Police took her statement in the hospital before she died, but nothing more has been done.

Violence against opposition supporters, their families and areas known to have voted against Mr. Mugabe has increased as the opposition picks up support. Mr. Mugabe has ruled since 1980.

Officials in Mr. Tsvangirai’s party say he and government ministers repeatedly have called in vain for police to stop political violence and arrest perpetrators.

As recently as Friday, his party reported to police several youths who are said to have beat up supporters in Harare last week, identifying them by name and an address where they gather.

Instead, it said, police were “hostile” to the victims and arrested some of them, forcing the others to go into hiding.

Human Rights Watch criticized the former opposition party for prioritizing the harmony of the delicate government over its push for justice.

It also criticized Mr. Tsvangirai for putting reconciliation above justice in a September speech in which he said a retributive agenda would be counterproductive.

“Reconciliation is the only solution for the country to have assured stability, peace and progress,” said Mr. Tsvangirai, who himself has been beaten up and tortured by Mr. Mugabe’s thugs.

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