30 March 2021
Zimbabwe, which has a population of approximately 14 million, had recorded 36,822 cases of COVID-19 and 1,520 related deaths as of 29 March 2021. Although there have been reports indicating the use of immigration detention measures for many years in Zimbabwe, in particular for migrants en route to South Africa, the Global Detention Project has not found any information concerning measures taken by the government to prevent the spread of infection amongst people in immigration custody since the onset of the pandemic.
According to UNHCR, in 2020, there were 9,115 refugees, 11,760 asylum seekers, and 270,000 internally displaced persons in Zimbabwe. As part of its COVID-19 response in the country, UNHCR has helped install hand-washing stations in the Tongogara refugee camp and supported more than 1,200 children and young people with home-based learning.
The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, at the time of writing, the country had not yet ratified other important human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
During its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Zimbabwe received several relevant recommendations, including: to “improve detention conditions in prisons and in police holding cells (Burundi) (para. 131.75)” and “ratify other human rights conventions, particularly the Convention against Torture and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Congo) (para. 132.2).”
Zimbabwe’s prisons are notorious for being unsanitary, overcrowded, and lacking basic amenities like running water in cells. In March 2020, the government acknowledged that Zimbabwe’s prisons, with a capacity of 17,000 had a population of 22,000 people. In consequence, between March and June 2020, the government released 4,208 prisoners under presidential amnesty order. Yet, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), far too many remained behind bars to allow for social distancing. Lawyers who had visited prisons in Harare in July 2020 told HRW that while masks were being provided, inmates and certain guards did not use them partly due to the lack of information on protective measures against COVID-19.
In October 2020, the Zimbabwean Human Rights NGO Forum and a former prisoner lodged a High Court application seeking to compel the country’s finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, to release funds for prison facilities. The claimants argued that the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) failed to comply with basic COVID-19 regulations such as the provision of facemasks, hand sanitisers and social distancing and requested that the state provides water, food, vehicles, COVID-19 tests, and medical supplies. On 2 December 2020, the High Court ordered the government to ensure that every inmate at the Chikurubi Prison gets 60 litres of water daily and ordered the finance minister to release funds for supplementary water and food supply. The Court also ordered the country’s prison authority to separate healthy inmates from those who are ill and to provide essential medicines.
On 27 January 2021, 110 detainees tested positive to COVID-19 at the Mutimurefu prison, one of the most overpopulated in the country. Two weeks prior, a senior officer of the Chikurubi prison died from the virus and 15 guards in that prison tested positive for COVID-19.
- Al-Jazeera, “In Zimbabwe’s Overcrowded Prisons, Fear of COVID-19 Spreads,” 25 September 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/25/gg
- D. Mavhinga, “Prisoners in Zimbabwe at Grave Risk of COVID-19 Spread,” Human Rights Watch, 29 July 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/prisoners-zimbabwe-grave-risk-covid-19-spread
- Garda, “Zimbabwe: Authorities Announce the Extension of COVID-19 Lockdown Restrictions for Another Two Weejs, as of Feb. 16; Some Measures Eased /update 12,” 16 February 2021, https://www.garda.com/fr/crisis24/alertes-de-securite/443596/zimbabwe-authorities-announce-the-extension-of-covid-19-lockdown-restrictions-for-another-two-weeks-as-of-feb-16-some-measures-eased-update-12
- Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review,” A/HRC/34/8, 28 December 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/442/54/PDF/G1644254.pdf?OpenElement
- IOL, “Zimbabwe to go on Total Lockdown From Monday to Combat Coronavirus,” 27 March 2020, https://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/zimbabwe-to-go-on-total-lockdown-from-monday-to-combat-coronavirus-45684111
- L. Munhende, “State Ordered to Supply Water Daily to CHikurubi Prison Inmates,” News Zimbabwe, 2 December 2020, https://www.newzimbabwe.com/state-ordered-to-supply-water-daily-to-chikurubi-prison-inmates/
- L. Munhende, “Zimbabwe: Govt Sued Over Deplorable Prison Conditions,” All Africa, 28 October 2020, https://allafrica.com/stories/202010280799.html
- M. Makoni, “COVID-19 Worsens Zimbabwe’s Health Crisis,” 15 August 2020, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31751-7/fulltext
- M. Matibiri, “Six Thousand Prisoners To Be Pardoned By Amnesty,” ZBC News, 29 March 2020, https://www.zbcnews.co.zw/six-thousand-prisoners-to-be-pardoned-via-amnesty/
- Pindula News, “110 Inmates at Mutimurefu Prison Contract Coronavirus,” 27 January 2021, https://news.pindula.co.zw/2021/01/27/110-inmates-at-mutimurefu-prison-contract-coronavirus/
- The Herald, “COVID-19: Lockdown Measures Partially Eased,” 2 May 2020, https://www.herald.co.zw/covid-19-lockdown-measures-partially-eased/
- UN Population Statistics, “World Population Prospects 2019,” https://population.un.org/wpp/
- UNHCR, “COVID-19 Emergency Response: Southern Africa (2 October 2020),” 11 November 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/82940
- Worldometer, “Zimbabwe: Coronavirus Cases,” 26 March 2021, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/zimbabwe/
- Zimeye, “Exclusive: Prison Boss Dies of COVID-19, 15 Others Test Positive,” 13 January 2021, https://www.zimeye.net/2021/01/13/exclusive-prison-boss-dies-of-covid-19-15-others-test-positive/