Torture Chronicles

 

Oak Human Rights fellow Dr. Frances Lovemore documents violence and torture in Zimbabwe.

 

In Zimbabwe, political upheaval and violence have become a way of life. But recent forced evictions of some 700,000 political opponents of the country's dominant political party by the military and allied militias amazed even the country's most conflict-hardened residents, including Dr. Frances Lovemore, Colby's 2005 Oak Human Rights Fellow.

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The one-semester fellowship was established by a 1998 grant to Colby from the Oak Foundation to allow a frontline human rights practitioner to take a sabbatical for research, writing, and teaching as a scholar-in-residence at Colby.

Lovemore's report from the front lines centered on a government policy that has shaken her country. The destruction of homes and property of urban Zimbabweans in recent months has forced destitute throngs to wander the already-impoverished countryside. "There's just a complete shock in Zimbabwe," Lovemore said from Harare. "People didn't believe the government would go this far. The victims are in a state of complete shock. They've basically lost everything."

Because of the large numbers of displaced people, the appalling famine conditions, and the high rate of HIV/AIDS infection and lack of medical care in the rural areas, a new question is starting to surface, Lovemore said. "Is this a planned genocide? Are we looking at a completely different situation than what we were thinking about two years ago, when we thought that we would be able to force a political crisis and have a transitional system where we could advocate for truth and justice?"

Lovemore has reason to ask"and to be worried. For the past five years, she has been treating victims of organized violence and torture and documenting their injuries. The torture methods she describes include beatings, branding and cutting, electrocution, partial drowning, rape and sexual torture. "It would appear that there has been a deliberate decision [by the government] to use torture rather than killing or disappearances as it is as effective a method of terror as killing and has the advantage of being harder to detect. It also creates less alarm in the international community."

Lovemore spent her childhood and teenage years in what she describes as "a country of conflict which affected everybody in the country, whatever color they were." Lovemore speaks of coming of age in the 1970s in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), when the country's black African majority began to challenge white minority rule. The struggle for independence was violent, with atrocities committed by both sides. "For me," Lovemore said, "it was fairly traumatic, being part of a [white] community that thought they were right."

Lovemore received her nursing degree from the University of Capetown in 1982, where she experienced firsthand the effects that South Africa's apartheid system had on patients. "Being a white, I wasn't allowed to work in the black part of the hospital. That really started to develop my interest in human rights." She continued her education in Zimbabwe and became a medical doctor in 1989.

It wasn't until the mid 1980s that Lovemore and her colleagues began to learn the extent of the atrocities perpetrated by both whites and blacks in the struggle for independence. "A lot of my friends had been involved in the war, on both sides, and I felt the impact of them having never been debriefed or reintegrated back into society. I began to question the impact of that on people's future lives." At the same time, Lovemore and others began to see evidence of torture in the patients they treated. Under an elected, black Zimbabwean government in place since independence in 1980, violence continued.

Lovemore now works as the medical director of Amani Trust, which was formed in 1993 to provide community-based care to survivors of organized violence and torture. The trust was founded, in part, with a grant from the Oak Zimbabwe Foundation.

Amani Trust trains doctors in internationally established guidelines for the medical treatment of torture survivors. These guidelines call for more than just medical treatment"doctors also refer patients to counseling and support and to legal assistance. Doctors are also trained to document injuries and complications.

The organization has developed a network of counselors and medical practitioners"and survivors.

Redress and reparations for victims, perpetrator accountability, and public acknowledgement of atrocities are important to the healing process that Lovemore hopes eventually will occur. "In Zimbabwe now, we're beginning to see the effects of never having a truth and justice commission, post-1980, to create accountability for the atrocities. The victims themselves were also the perpetrators on both sides [who] never had any opportunity to obtain redress or be held accountable for what they had done."

In the hope that a truth and justice commission eventually will be established in Zimbabwe, Amani Trust works to stay "ahead of the curve," as Lovemore describes it, in documenting torture while it's happening and alerting local, regional, and international organizations. "We've had the advantage of seeing other people's experiences, at seeing what is required for documentation." Lovemore cites work done since the 1970s, including in South Africa, where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission publicly acknowledged the victims and exposed the perpetrators of human rights abuses during apartheid. In Zimbabwe's case, it is a goal to have documentation that leaves no question about the responsibility for atrocities. "Our dream is that we will have absolutely everything ready when we come to some transitional process where we really don't want the issue of an amnesty to occur, where the perpetrators get amnesty as a bargaining tool."

Lovemore arrived in Waterville in late August with her husband and three children. The Goldfarb Center, which oversees the Oak Fellows program, will be host to a human-rights conference in November, along with other events. While at Colby, Lovemore is "really looking forward to some academic interaction with like-minded people and some intellectual input. If I look back at my last five years, it's always been emergency to emergency and meeting another crisis. We've got a lot of half-finished bits and pieces of research that I would like to finish off."

Ideally Lovemore would like to write an overview of what has happened in Zimbabwe, how Amani Trust has been able to document torture activities, and tie that to what is being done internationally. But Lovemore says she isn't interested in personal recognition for the work she will be able to accomplish while at Colby. It's the effort of everyone at Amani Trust that produces results. "I've got the most wonderful staff. They're really brave. I kind of wish that it was the whole office that was able to do this."