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Gukurahundi Crimes Against Humanity in Zimbabwe? An Evaluative Investigation




Zimbabwe, Gukurahundi atrocities, international crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, individual criminal responsibility, accountability


Between 1983 and 1986, the Zimbabwean government deployed the 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) to the provinces of Matabeleland and Midlands in an operation known as Gukurahundi. The stated aim of the Brigade’s operation was to combat dissidents—armed groups of men, comprising former ZIPRA combatants who had deserted the ZNA alleging that they were being discriminated against and attacked within the ZNA. Also, there were allegations that some were even killed. Instead, the 5th Brigade committed heinous atrocities against civilians in the two provinces. Within six weeks of arriving in Matabeleland North, 2, 000 civilians had been killed. Thousands more were raped, tortured, enforcedly disappeared and their homesteads and property burnt and destroyed. In four years, an estimated 20, 000 people had been killed in an operation covering Matabeleland and Midlands. Despite being presented with documented evidence of atrocities, including through its own Chihambakwe Commission of Enquiry on the disturbances in Matabeleland, the government of Zimbabwe denied that its army had committed atrocities and refused to publish the Commission’s findings. A political settlement between ZANU and ZAPU in 1987 ended the atrocities. The perpetrators of atrocities were pardoned, and there was no accountability or justice for victims. This article examines the Gukurahundi atrocities and evaluates whether they meet the requirements of crimes against humanity (CAH) under international law. The article has three objectives. First, to provide an overview of crimes against humanity, including their origins and historical evolution and development. Second, to examine the contextual, physical and mental elements of CAH. Finally, to evaluate whether the Gukurahundi atrocities meet the legal requirements for the enumerated acts of crimes against humanity. The prohibition of CAH carries an international obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish the crimes. If the 5th Brigade is found to have committed CAH, the perpetrators are liable to be investigated, prosecuted and punished under international law.


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How to Cite

Malunga, Siphosami. “Gukurahundi Crimes Against Humanity in Zimbabwe? An Evaluative Investigation”. South African Yearbook of International Law, 50 pages.



Received 2022-07-13
Accepted 2024-01-22
Published 2024-04-26