Robert Mugabe must be prosecuted — now
THE Zimbabwean government’s recent brutal attack on its own citizens is a sobering reminder of how far Zimbabwe has fallen. Six years ago this month I met President Robert Mugabe for three and a half hours as part of a mission of international judges and lawyers organised by the International Bar Association. Our meeting was prompted by the steady erosion of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
Evidence for this included reports of general lawlessness and intimidation of judges. Court orders were allegedly being ignored and individuals were being prosecuted because of their political allegiances.
The country’s economy was also in grave peril. Commercial farms were being seized, resulting in fallow land in a country where nearly half the population lived by subsistence agriculture. Inflation was running at an annual 60%, with half the workforce unemployed. I remember seeing endless numbers of people lost in despair.
At the time, we were receiving the first reports of people being beaten and intimidated for opposing Mugabe. His calculated and sustained campaign against civilians was dangerous and misguided. The very fabric of Zimbabwe’s democracy was at risk. It was hard to imagine the situation could get any worse.
Fast forward to March 2007. Agricultural production has fallen so rapidly that the country now faces a massive shortage of maize, its main staple. Annual inflation is over 1 500%, the highest of any country in the world. Gross domestic product has declined by 30% in the past five years. Unemployment is at 80%. More than 3 200 Zimbabweans die of Aids each week. There are more than 1.3 million orphans.
Deprivation of housing and food are used as economic weapons against those who oppose Mugabe. Arbitrary arrests, torture and detention of opposition party members are widespread.
The country is in ruins and the responsibility lies with Mugabe. Yet he acts with impunity and, in so doing, has made a mockery of international human rights decrees. The endless condemnation by the international community has become tedious and ineffective. It is time for action.
First, the world needs to understand that Mugabe can be held criminally responsible for the suffering of an entire nation. He has committed crimes against humanity — acts aimed at furthering state policy as part of a systematic attack directed at a civilian population. These acts include torture, enforced disappearance, imprisonment and murder. There is incontrovertible evidence that Mugabe’s government has committed such acts.
Second, the international community must collectively embrace the legal principle of non-statutory limitations for crimes against humanity. This fundamental part of international human rights law ensures there are no statutory limitations for international crimes, irrespective of the date of their commission. The message should be clear: Mugabe cannot hide from prosecution.
Third, the UN Security Council should act. It has the power to authorise the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Mugabe given that crimes against humanity appear to have been committed. The recent indictments relating to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan were a result of a referral to the ICC.
ýNation states, particularly neighbouring states of Zimbabwe, should hold Mugabe accountable under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Under this legal doctrine, countries must adhere to their obligations under international law to prosecute individuals, including heads of state, who have committed crimes against humanity elsewhere. States are required under UN resolutions to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes. States should unilaterally indict Mugabe for his crimes.
ýThe government of South Africa must reverse its policy of condoning Mugabe’s actions. Otherwise it is complicit in Mugabe’s criminal acts.
It is inconceivable that Zimbabweans have suffered for more than the six years since my meeting with Mugabe. The international community must accept responsibility for having both failed to alleviate this suffering and to hold accountable those responsible. We must act now.
Ellis is executive director of the International Bar Association, London