We Have a Responsibility to Act on Zimbabwe


By Dr. Keith Martin, M.D., Embassy Magazine - April 23, 2008


Zimbabwe's thuggish president, Robert Mugabe, has unleashed the dogs of war on his people, threatening to drive Zimbabwe down the same bloody post-electoral path that Kenya suffered not so long ago.

The killing, torture and brutalization of his downtrodden people has now begun in earnest as Mr. Mugabe is doing everything and ignoring everyone to maintain power.

Human Rights Watch has reported torture and violence in Zimbabwe and Amnesty International claims that major human rights abuses are taking place.

Tragically and inexplicably, Canada and the international community's response to this humanitarian catastrophe has been tepid. For nations that collectively say "never again" in response to genocide and massive human rights abuses, this position is utterly inexcusable.

The people of Zimbabwe have been forgotten by the international community for far too long. Unless we act now, the horrors and agony that they have endured will continue and our failure to act will mean that their blood will be on our hands.

We have a stark choice: Do nothing and watch the slaughter of innocent people; or act boldly and effectively to stop the violence. The latter course would first involve supporting an appeal by the opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai for a United Nations-African Union High Readiness Brigade of peacekeepers to be deployed to Zimbabwe with the mandate to use any means necessary to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

This has been done in the past following elections in Africa and should be done again in Zimbabwe. Canada should step into the breach and support this initiative. Not to mention we must take the necessary steps to ensure that the large arms shipments from China en route for Zimbabwe, which would further escalate the violence, are not allowed into the country. Otherwise, the reports of beatings, torture and killings will continue to increase.

Essentially, if we fail to act now, another bloodbath will occur right in front of us on the ochre grounds of Africa and we will have once again failed our responsibility to protect.

We must also come to the immediate aid of the more than 3,000 displaced individuals within Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries with emergency aid funding. These individuals and families are without food, water and shelter as they flee to neighbouring South Africa. Canada must commit serious and immediate funding to help the organizations at work on the ground care for these people.

How else can Canada help to prevent such a catastrophe? We should immediately approach members of the South African Development Community (SADC), such as South Africa and Angola, to encourage them to offer Mr. Mugabe a safe haven. Such a proposition of exile and immunity, as detestable as this is, has succeeded to dislodge other African despots from power. So long as it is combined with an undertaking never again to meddle in politics, this is a large, Faustian carrot to lure despots into retirement.

But carrots work best when they are offered together with sticks, and so Canada must provide those too.

In addition to speaking up for the UN-AU intervention force, Canada is seriously overdue to apply sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle—personally. Australia, the European Union, the United States and even little New Zealand all have laws that freeze the assets and prohibit travel by this criminal coterie.

Canada, shamefully, has no such law, and so if Mr. Mugabe cared to pay a visit to our country and deposit his stolen billions of dollars here, apparently he is welcome. Last year, Canada slapped sanctions on Burma only weeks after the dictatorship there violently put down protests, so there is no excuse for Canada being years late devising Zimbabwe sanctions.

The longer election results are delayed, the longer Mugabe and his Old Guard will have to secure safe passage and easy living should their retirement from politics be hastily enforced in the near future.

Is all this going to take political will and cost money? Yes. But it will cost a lot more to let Mr. Mugabe dig his claws deeper into Zimbabwe's heart, which he has bled nearly dry already.

Quite simply, he is the world's worst living dictator, who in under three decades transformed Zimbabwe from the African country with the highest literacy rate and best health system, into one that has virtually no education system and one of the world's highest AIDS rates. Canada has failed to act in that time, not even on sanctions, which all our allies have done. What are we waiting for?

Dr. Keith Martin is the Liberal Party critic for international development. He travelled to Zimbabwe as part of the Commonwealth Action Group's Ministerial Assessment team that evaluated Mr. Mugabe's land reform program.