An alliance of 16 independent human rights groups said on Monday its records of torture, assault, unlawful arrests and political discrimination showed the nation's police force has been the main perpetrator of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe since 2000.
In six years of political turmoil and economic meltdown, the Zimbabwe Republic Police changed from a generally professional force to a politicized one used by the ruling party to suppress all perceived opposition and retain power, the Human Rights Forum said.
"The police have been named as torturers and police premises as places of torture and other abuse in hundreds of cases recorded by the forum," it said.
To victims of violence and political intimidation, the police, the military and law enforcement agencies including the Central Intelligence Organization spy agency "became instruments of violence rather than institutions that offered protection," the forum said in a report released on Monday entitled Who Guards the Guards?
It said at least 20,642 cases of human rights violations mostly orchestrated by the state were documented since July 2001, when the independent rights organizations began compiling accounts of abuse.
"These are the number of cases, and in many there are several people abused, so the number of people suffering abuse could be considerably higher," the forum said.
Over 5,000 rights violations blamed on state agents were independently documented in the first nine months of this year, mostly against perceived government opponents.
The alliance documented 2,656 cases of violations in 2004.
"[This year] may record nearly 7,000 violations by the end of the year. Most disturbing is that [this year] torture has increased markedly," it said.
"The situation continues to deteriorate. The police and other perpetrators operate with impunity, not facing any legal responsibility for their actions. This impunity allows abuses to continue," Noel Kututwa, head of the forum, told reporters in Harare.