- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Zimbabwe has fallen apart. President Robert Mugabe, once the doyen of the African Liberation Movement, is now reviled as a dictator who has declared Zimbabwe his.

Unlike the France of Louis XIV, who declared France and himself synonymous, Zimbabwe under Mr. Mugabe has not produced notable contributions to humanity. Rather, it has become emblematic of the economic and social misery produced by a dictator outliving his welcome and his legitimacy as leader of a sovereign people. President Mugabe is now a dictator without a state that believes in his leadership, condemned by African leaders as much as by the West.

While the opposition in Zimbabwe calls for the ouster of Mr. Mugabe, who effectively stole the 2008 presidential election, some Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and some African leaders continue to defend and protect him. U.N. inertia was given new life when the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation threatened to veto a resolution condemning the election violence that had clearly been prompted by Mr. Mugabe’s refusal to concede the election he lost in June 2008. The position of China and Russia at the time was not altogether surprising.

Hardly liberal democracies rooted in constitutional rule and the rule of law, China and Russia put a halt to any action the Security Council could have contemplated to protect international peace and security and to give life to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The R2P principle is that sovereign states, and the international community as a whole, have a responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes.

Meanwhile, President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, acting ostensibly as mediator between Mr. Mugabe and the Parliamentary Opposition, seemed more a mouthpiece for Mr. Mugabe than a representative of the African and international communities seeking resolution to the worsening conditions in Zimbabwe brought about by Mr. Mugabe’s refusal to respect the will of the sovereign people.

Deploring Mr. Mbeki’s apparent defense of Mr. Mugabe, Cape Town Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on the international community to act urgently to protect the civilian population affected by Mr. Mugabe’s abuse of power.

With the outbreak of cholera and the insistence of Mr. Mugabe that there is no cholera in Zimbabwe, it is clear that conditions there make Zimbabwe a threat to international peace and security.

More than 10,000 people have died from the waterborne cholera, and tens of thousands more are at risk. From all reports, there is no food and the country is now on the verge of famine. Hospitals have collapsed, which indicates the disastrous state of the health-care system.

The educational system has collapsed, and schools are closing. The country is in chaos. Zimbabweans are fleeing to South Africa seeking jobs and refuge. The dictator continues to insist the country is his - a 21st-century form of feudalism in which Mr. Mugabe enjoys power as the quintessential absolutist monarch.

The United Nations, representing the international community, could ignore the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Zimbabwe, or invoke - finally - R2P. Resorting to rhetoric about respect for the sovereignty of Zimbabwe is insufficient and offers little material assistance to the struggling sovereign people being oppressed by a dictator who has determined he is the absolutist ruler for life.

The following steps are needed immediately. Zimbabwe needs to be isolated through economic and diplomatic sanctions. The regime must be isolated. Mr. Mugabe’s assets abroad, and those of his family members, must be frozen.

A major humanitarian effort is necessary to prevent mass starvation and begin providing the vital public health aid needed to stem the spread of cholera that Mr. Mugabe now asserts no longer plagues the country. The discredited Thabo Mbeki must be replaced as mediator.

The General Assembly of the United Nations needs to invoke “Uniting for Peace” to authorize deploying a peace-building mission. Mr. Mugabe needs to be held accountable for crimes against humanity through the International Criminal Court.

If this vital opportunity is lost, the United Nations and the Permanent Five Members of the Security Council will, once again, be held responsible for turning a blind eye to yet another man-made catastrophe that is a manifest threat to international peace and security.

Dave Benjamin is assistant professor of international political economy and diplomacy at the International College of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. He writes on international human rights and humanitarian law.

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