- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

Zimbabwe’s four-digit inflation rate, the worst in the world, is one sign of the economic shambles in this once-prosperous country. After nearly three decades of misrule under strongman Robert Mugabe, its farms are wrecked and its people are on the brink of starvation. It is therefore a most grisly curiosity that the United Nations has just made Zimbabwe head of its Commission on Sustainable Development. This, for a regime whose only sustained activity is destruction — the systematic destruction of lives, communities and wealth.

The vote to install Zimbabwe came May 11. It was Africa’s turn to elect a chair and the governments on the continent chose Zimbabwe by a 26-21 margin in a secret vote, with three abstentions, reportedly as a gesture of defiance to the developed world. That rings true, since it certainly could not have been for economic reasons. About the most sympathetic face to put on matters is that African governments are reacting in defiance to European and American environmental and economic policies with which they disagree. Even so, any such characterization would also be compelled on the merits to call this vote a disgrace.

Zimbabwe is a country where, two years ago, the government made refugees of approximately 1.5 million of its citizens in “Operation Clear the Trash,” which bulldozed “unlawful” town and cities. This is a country where potatoes are a “strategic crop.” This is a country whose opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is arrested repeatedly and beaten by regime forces for the “crime” of speaking out and holding political rallies. Now, this regime’s representatives are entrusted with an organization whose inspiring principles include the following: “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.”

European governments were particularly opposed to Zimbabwe’s candidacy, for reasons which begin with a very practical concern. Top Zimbabwean officials chairing the commission would not be able to travel to many Western capitals active in international development because Zimbabwe’s abysmal human-rights record disqualifies their visas. But they very clearly were also opposed to Zimbabwe’s bid because of the mockery it makes of the U.N. development agenda. Not even the business-as-usual of sanctimony and the doling of cash can get underway if this thuggish regime is in charge.

The stage is now set for a period of even greater confusion than normal at the United Nations on the subjects of the environment and economic development. To the extent that this serves as further evidence of the need for drastic change at the United Nations — by no means a certain proposition — it would be a silver lining to this vote.

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