In an article in The Times, RW Johnson paints an absolutely bone-chilling portrait of what's going on in Zimbabwe as what can only be described as an invisible genocide, given how little public attention it has been given. [Hat tip to Peggy McGuinness over at Opinio Juris for the article] Some excerpts:
Under the weight of the general economic meltdown — the economy has shrunk by 40% since 2000 and is still contracting — the health system has collapsed and a populace now weakened by five consecutive years of near-starvation dies of things which would never have been fatal before. A staggering 42,000 women died in childbirth last year, for example, compared with fewer than 1,000 a decade ago.2 -3 million people are missing, likely dead. An entire country, once wealthy and fertile, has been reduced to poverty, begging, and is crippled by hyperinflation spawned directly, if not intentionally, by its leader's policies. And yet there is little public outcry. Why? Perhaps because Mugabe was once seen as a nationalist hero, leading his country out from under the oppression of white minority rule and colonization. Perhaps because the world is distracted by Darfur, by Iraq, by North Korea. Perhaps because the genocide occurring in Zimbabwe is slow, methodical, and incidental to policy, rather than the product of massacres, bureaucratic murder, or gang rape.
A vast human cull is under way in Zimbabwe and the great majority of deaths are a direct result of deliberate government policies. Ignored by the United Nations, it is a genocide perhaps 10 times greater than Darfur’s and more than twice as large as Rwanda’s.Reckoning the death toll is difficult. Had demographic growth continued normally, Zimbabwe’s population would have passed 15m by 2000 and 18m by the end of 2006. But people have fled the country in enormous numbers, with 3m heading for South Africa and an estimated further 1m scattered around the world. This would suggest a current population of 14m. But even the government, which tries to make light of the issue, says that there are only 12m left in Zimbabwe.
Social scientists say that the government’s figures are clearly rigged and too high. Their own population estimates vary between 8m and 11m. But even if one accepted the government figure, 2m people are “missing”, and the real number is probably 3m or more. And all this is happening in what was, until recently, one of Africa’s most prosperous states and a member of the Commonwealth....
Bulawayo, capital of Matabeleland, is a virtual ghost town, its wide and gracious streets sparsely peopled even at midday, for emigration and starvation have drained its lifeblood.
Matabeleland, always the centre of opposition to Mugabe, was the first to experience his iron fist in the mid-1980s and has taken more terrible punishment in recent years. Last year, in common with the rest of the country, it was the target of Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for “drive out the filth”) in which the police and army destroyed shanty towns and cracked down on informal traders after Mugabe decreed that they needed to be forcibly “re-ruralised” to regain their peasant roots. All told, some 2m people were affected.
Just what that meant becomes clear from the study carried out by the Reverend Albert Chatindo, whose parish, Killarney, lies on Bulawayo’s northern side. Here 217 families (1,300 people) whose houses had been demolished crowded into his church hall — only for the army to descend upon them again, load them into trucks and dump them in the middle of the bush without food or shelter.
This is not a genocide like that in Rwanda, where some 900,000 people were butchered in an orgy of tribal hatred. Instead, the regime’s key motive at every stage has simply been its own maintenance of power.
From 2000 on, it destroyed commercial agriculture because it saw the white farmers and their workers as opposition to Mugabe. This led to the first wave of killing, as some 2.25m farm-workers and their families were thrown off the farms, many after being beaten and tortured. An unknown number died. The eviction had the effect of collapsing the economy and cutting the food supply far below subsistence in every subsequent year.
What scarce food there was left, along with seeds, fertiliser, agricultural implements and every other means to life, was made dependent on possession of a Zanu-PF party card. Campaigns of terror followed in 2000 and 2002-03. The population has since been kept in a continuous state of anxiety by a series of military-style “operations”, of which Murambatsvina and Maguta are merely two particularly murderous examples.
Some 29% of sexually active Zimbabweans are reckoned to be HIV-positive and the economic collapse has devastated the health system and stopped the distribution of anti-Aids drugs. Studies show that HIV-sufferers with severe malnutrition are six times more likely to die than those who are properly fed and have access to proper medication.
World Health Organisation figures show that life expectancy in Zimbabwe, which was 62 in 1990, had by 2004 plummeted to 37 for men and 34 for women. These are by far the worst such figures in the world. Yet Zimbabwe does not even get onto the UN agenda: South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, who has covered for Mugabe from the beginning, uses his leverage to prevent discussion. How long this can go on is anyone’s guess.
After Rwanda, the UN vowed “never again” but Mugabe — and, to a considerable extent, Mbeki — have already been responsible for far more deaths than Rwanda suffered and the number is fast heading into realms previously explored only by Stalin, Mao and Adolf Eichmann.
Whatever the reason, the situation in Zimbabwe is beyond unacceptable. First, the African Union must abandon its spineless and feckless attempt at pan-African union and must immediately censure and sanction Mugabe and Zimbabwe. As recently as June 2005, the AU was evading its responsibility in protecting the continent, defending Mugabe's "urbanization" programs and stating that it would not be proper for the AU to intervene in the internal affairs of its members.
The new United Nations' Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, faces many challenges, not the least of which are the on-going genocides in Africa. If the UN is to have any relevancy in the modern world, it must abandon its blind adherence to state sovereignty and take action. States like Sudan or Zimbabwe that preside over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their own citizens have no moral or legal claim to sovereignty. They must be treated as international pariahs; all voting rights and privileges in the UN should be suspended, and international sanctions should be imposed immediately. If the concept of an "international community" is to have any meaning, political or legal, it must be capable of taking action in cases where the most extreme limits of its norms are violated.