Magazine article The Spectator

We Have a Duty to Protect Zimbabwe

Magazine article The Spectator

We Have a Duty to Protect Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Ten years ago the UN SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan set out a new international doctrine.

Annan declared that the world was looking forward to what he called 'a new century of human rights'.

For the United Nations, declared Annan, this meant an entirely new way of doing things. 'No government, ' he declared, 'has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples.

'Whether a person belongs to the minority or the majority, that person's human rights and fundamental freedoms are sacred.' This statement was revolutionary. International relations, since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, have been conducted on the basis of formal respect for national boundaries. Annan, responding to globalisation and prompted perhaps by Tony Blair, was asserting that these borders should no longer be immune and that intervention was always appropriate when governments waged warfare against their own citizens.

Kofi Annan expressed the spirit of the age, or so it seemed. Humanitarian intervention was the great fin de siècle theme. In Kosovo and East Timor this doctrine was used to justify cross-border excursions to confront brutal actions by repressive regimes. Even where more self-interested motives were at work, as in Iraq, it was still used as the overriding vindication for invasion.

But there are now overwhelming signs that the 'responsibility to protect', as Kofi Annan's doctrine has come to be known within the United Nations, has ceased to apply. Within the past few months there have been two terrible cases which cry out for exactly the kind of action for which Annan called so eloquently.

The first of these is Burma, where the military junta has failed to come to the aid of its own people in the wake of natural catastrophe, and refused the help of outsiders as well.

This murderous stance has been greeted with quite remarkable equanimity by the international community, including the once triggerhappy Bush administration. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Burmese have died as a result, victims of their own government.

The second case is Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe's thugs have been permitted to act with total impunity ever since Morgan Tsvangirai's election triumph in late March.

Large parts of Eastern Zimbabwe, in particular Mashonaland (though the violence is now spreading), now recall Darfur when the genocide began five years ago. There are the same burning and empty villages, the same climate of fear, while the language of genocide is being explicitly used by ministers.

Large bands of state-sponsored militias, paid and protected by the Zanu-PF regime, move without hindrance from area to area, killing, burning and torturing as they go. As with the Janjaweed in Sudan, Mugabe's socalled 'green bombers' are licensed to target all political opposition to the government, however tangential. In Darfur there was an ethnic or racial basis to the killing, whereas in Zimbabwe Mugabe (at this stage) is exclusively targeting members of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Ministers refer to the MDC opposition as 'vermin' or 'cockroaches', and publicly contemplate their eradication.

Mugabe is not simply using violence as a method of control. International aid agencies have been cleaned out of Zimbabwe as well.

This is partly so that there will be as few witnesses as possible to the carnage, and partly to prevent food and other forms of humanitarian assistance reaching MDC supporters.

Zanu-PF cards are now required to acquire the national diet of mealie meal in many areas: those who do not possess this kind of identification now face starvation.

Mugabe has become the figurehead for a military junta, many of whom have blood on their hands from the genocide carried out in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, where 20,000 died. The election defeat last March posed Zanu-PF with by far the largest crisis since the Matabeleland killings, and they are responding in exactly the same way. …

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