Full Name: The Republic of Zimbabwe
Head of State: Robert Mugabe has been the President since 1988, and was Prime Minister for 8 years previously.
Population: Approximately 13 million
Major Religions: Many people hold Christian and indigenous beliefs; others follow only Christianity
The official language of Zimbabwe is English, however the majority of the population speaks Shona which is the native language of the Shona people. Sindebele is also spoken by the Matabele people.

Country Information

Zimbabwe lies in the southernmost tip of Africa, and shares boarders with Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.

The country was colonised by the British in the 1880s, and given the name Southern Rhodesia. In 1980, the country attained independence and along with it a new name, Zimbabwe, new flag, and government led by Robert Mugabe. Canaan Banana served as the first president with Mugabe as Prime Minister. In 1987, the government amended the Constitution to provide for an Executive President and abolished the office of Prime Minister. The constitutional changes went into effect on 1 January 1988, establishing Robert Mugabe as President. Whites made up less than one percent of the population but held 70% of the country's commercially viable arable land. Mugabe began to redistribute land to blacks in 2000 with a policy of compulsory land redistribution.

The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is the Zimbabwean nationalist party that has been the ruling political party in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, led by Robert Mugabe, first as Prime Minister with the party simply known as ZANU, and then as President from 1988 after taking over ZAPU and renaming the party ZANU-PF. It is modelled on communist parties from other countries.

Why do people flee Zimbabwe?

According to human rights organizations, the government of Zimbabwe violates the rights of its people to shelter, food, freedom of movement and residence, freedom of assembly and the protection of the law. There are assaults on the media, the political opposition, civil society activists, and human rights defenders. An estimated 3.4 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population, had fled abroad by mid 2007. Some 3 million of these have gone to South Africa. An additional estimated 570,000 people are displaced within the borders of the country, many of whom remain in transit camps and have limited access to assistance.

Opposition gatherings are frequently the subject of brutal attacks by the police force, such as the crackdown on a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rally in 2007. In the events, party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and 49 other opposition activists were arrested and severely beaten by the police. After his release, Morgan Tsvangirai told of his treatment during this time which included head injuries and blows to the arms, knees and back. The police action was strongly condemned by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the European Union and the United States. While noting that the activists had suffered injuries, but not mentioning the cause of them, the Zimbabwean government-controlled daily newspaper The Herald claimed the police had intervened after demonstrators "ran amok looting shops, destroying property, mugging civilians, and assaulting police officers and innocent members of the public".

From 2001 to September 2006 the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has recorded over 1200 cases of human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies.
The ZANU-PF trains and sponsors the National Youth Service, a "youth militia" known colloquially as the "Green Bombers." This group is described by the U.S. Department of State as a group of undisciplined child-soldiers used by the ruling government to suppress political dissent through overt acts of violence. They are responsible for many of acts of politically-motivated violence and are frequently under the influence of government-issued drugs.

There is also an abuse of human rights in the media. The Zimbabwean government suppresses freedom of the press and freedom of speech. It has also been repeatedly accused of using the public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, as a propaganda tool. Newspapers critical of the government, such as the Daily News, have closed after bombs exploded at their offices and the government refused to renew their license. BBC News and CNN have also been banned from filming or reporting from Zimbabwe. They now report on happenings within Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries like South Africa.

Women are disadvantaged and discriminated against in Zimbabwe, with economic dependency and social norms preventing them from bettering their situation. Despite legal prohibitions, customs such as forced marriage still take place. Domestic violence against women is a serious problem. Whilst sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law, such harassment is common and generally not prosecuted. Although women’s right to property, inheritance and divorce, is recognized by the law, many women lack awareness of their rights.

President Mugabe has criticized homosexuals, attributing Africa's problems to them. Homosexual men, and to a lesser extent homosexual women are prevented from fully expressing their sexual orientation. In some cases the display of affection between men is also criminalised.

The government has generally responded to accusations of human rights violations from Western countries with counter-accusations of colonial attitudes and hypocrisy, claiming that countries such as the UK and the US are guilty of similar or worse acts, for example in the Iraq war.

In 2005, 95 Zimbabweans were granted refugee status or leave to remain in Britain, however at the height of the number of applications in 2002, this figure was 2,350.

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