The impunity guaranteed by President Robert Mugabe for his violent militias and security forces has left most of Zimbabwe’s people in a state of perpetual fear, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The thousands of cases of murder, torture and destruction of property committed by Mugabe’s supporters over the last decade means there will be further violence when the country next goes to elections, the New York-based HRW said.

Mugabe, 87, has said he plans to hold elections soon this year, while local human rights organizations in Harare say there has been a countrywide deployment of youth militias, soldiers, war veterans and police who have been carrying out a familiar pattern of brutal pre- electoral intimidation against his opponents.

The situation in Zimbabwe is drastically deteriorating, HRW researcher Tiseke Kadambala said at a media conference in Johannesburg to launch the report.

HRW says that Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party is responsible at the highest levels for the violence.

Despite the power-sharing agreement Mugabe and pro-democracy Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai signed two years ago, security agents and militias continue to commit human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture and killings of supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, the report charges.

‘There has been little or no accountability for these crimes,’ the report said. ‘The government has not made any genuine effort to investigate, much less discipline or prosecute any of the individuals responsible.’

The failure to deal with the violence has encouraged Mugabe’s supporters because they know they will get away with it, the report added.

HRW cites individual cases, such as that of Tendai L, whose parents were killed in a rural village during the infamous presidential run-off elections in June 2008 when 200 MDC supporters were murdered and 5,000 tortured.

His neighbours were the killers, he is quoted as saying.

‘They have made it clear that at the next elections they will do it again because they didn’t get arrested,’ he said. ‘We now live in perpetual fear.’

Last year, the MDC sent a report on the 2008 atrocities to attorney-general Johannes Tomana, who is an avowed ZANU(PF) supporter.

It contained comprehensive details of the names of 183 murdered MDC supporters, the killers and the circumstances. Over a year and a half later, the MDC has not even received a response from Tomana, HRW said.

With the coalition government two years old, Tsvangirai’s ministers and officials in the government lack real power to end human rights abuses and end impunity, HRW said. Mugabe used politicised senior civil servants, army and police officers under his control to dominate government.

Diplomatic sources in Harare quote Theresa Makone, Tsvangirai’s co-minister of home affairs, as telling private meetings that Mugabe’s police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, who is meant to take instructions from her, ignores her and never returns telephone calls or responds to letters or emails.

Rashid Mahiya, director of the Heal Zimbabwe Trust, said SADC, the Southern African regional alliance, and the African Union had been very lax in dealing with the violence.

‘They have not stood by their own principles. It’s very unfortunate. When Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbabgo last year refused to recognize electoral defeat, ECOWAS, the West African regional group, had responded immediately,’ he said.

But when Mugabe plays the card of victim, SADC finds it difficult to act.’

Local human rights organizations have detailed repeatedly incidents this year when MDC officials reported to police attacks on them by ZANU(PF) gangs, only to find themselves arrested instead. MDC legislator and human rights lawyer Douglas Mwonzora is still in police cells three weeks after such an incident.

Ending impunity for past and ongoing abuses is essential if Zimbabwe is to end violence and firmly establish the rule of law, the HRW report says.

It recommends establishing an independent commission to investigate past atrocities, as well as an ombudsman to investigate crimes by the police and military.

An official human rights commission was established under the coalition agreement, but its officials say it has no budget and no legislation to enforce it. Lawyers say Zimbabwe also has a public protectors office, but that it is not mandated to investigate the uniformed forces.