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December 27, 2005
have been gallant in their struggle to try to topple Robert Mugabe
and rescue their country from despair. But Mugabe's state machine
is simply too powerful and corrupt to be defeated by weakened and
demoralized citizens. The escalating humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe
requires an immediate and forceful international response.
be held accountable for the crimes he has committed. A UN Security
Council referral to the International Criminal Court to investigate
Mugabe and his regime, similar to the referral over Sudan's Darfur
situation, is the most appropriate and effective response.
Criminal Court, or ICC, was established on July 1, 2002, as the
first permanent international court to investigate and try individuals
for the most heinous violations of international humanitarian law.
A referral to the ICC to immediately investigate Zimbabwe would
fall squarely within the powers of the Security Council to decide
what measures should be taken to maintain or restore international
peace and security.
wide discretionary powers, the Security Council could specifically
name Mugabe as an ongoing threat to the peace and security of the
region and authorize an ICC investigation, even though Zimbabwe
has refused to accept the court's jurisdiction.
Would an investigation
for crimes against humanity stop Mugabe? Nobody knows. But we have
to try, because the Zimbabwean government's systematic human rights
abuses have reached staggering proportions.
Under the guise
of creating order in the cities, Mugabe's government has razed informal
suburban townships that housed more than a million people. Without
notice or judicial proceedings, tens of thousands of homes, classrooms,
clinics and businesses have been bulldozed or set on fire, forcing
their residents onto the streets. The government has provided no
alternative housing, nor has it provided aid for the 700,000 people
who are now displaced.
humanity include acts committed as part of a widespread and systematic
attack directed against any civilian population - including the
deprivation of housing and forceful transfer of a population, calculated
to bring about the destruction of a targeted political group, which
is the case in Zimbabwe.
of the townships is the culmination of the ruling ZANU-PF Party's
anti-democratic assault. In rural areas, ZANU-PF is able to control
voting through village leaders using a widespread system of patronage.
But the residents of the townships and cities, who have access to
the news media and are able to mobilize, form the backbone of Zimbabwe's
opposition. Not content with shutting down the opposition media
and targeting its leaders, the government is now is literally dispersing
There is overwhelming
evidence that Mugabe's government has committed other crimes against
humanity, including imprisonment, rape, abduction and torture.
a country in ruins; its people are destitute. The unemployment rate
is more than 70 percent and the annual inflation rate is more than
500 percent. Since 1998, annual foreign investment inflows have
dropped from $436 million to less than $5 million.
The rural population
suffers from increasing starvation, which is now being exacerbated
by the influx of people displaced from the townships. Nearly 40
per cent of Zimbabweans are malnourished, with 70 percent of the
population living below the poverty line of $1 a day. In the span
of only 15 years, the average life expectancy has declined from
60 years to 30 years.
To make the
situation worse, many of those who have been left on the streets
suffer from AIDS. The World Health Organization reports that one
in four Zimbabweans has the AIDS virus. In a recent demolition campaign,
an AIDS orphanage was bulldozed. The independent news media have
been shut down; the judiciary has been compromised; social services
have collapsed and elections are rigged.
Mugabe is a
demagogue whose egregious crimes have, to date, gone unpunished
- much to the consternation of Zimbabweans. It is time for the international
community to act, by using the "trigger mechanism" at the UN Security
Council to initiate proceedings before the International Criminal
by the ICC would turn Mugabe into a pariah within the context of
international law: An international arrest warrant would be issued,
and all UN member states would be obliged to detain Mugabe if he
stepped outside the borders of Zimbabwe.
A referral to
the ICC would also send an unmistakable message to the beleaguered
citizens of Zimbabwe that Mugabe will ultimately be held accountable
for his crimes. There is no statute of limitations for those, like
Mugabe, who commit atrocities against their own citizens. It is
time to bring him to justice.
Ellis is executive director of the International Bar Association,
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