Robert Mu­gabe must be pros­e­cuted — now

Sunday Times - - News & Opinion -

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

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