Zimbabwe's Slow-Motion Horror Show

Does a nation's sovereignty allow it to destroy its own people?

According to official results by Zimbabwe's electoral commission on May 2, the great African liberator, Robert Mugabe, lost that country's March 29 election to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, by 43.2 to Tsvangirai's 47.9 percent. Since the law requires a runoff, Mugabe, who is the law, had the second round delayed while his thugs terrorized those ungrateful Zimbabweans who dared to vote against him. (Or, at least, those suspected of doing so.)

As the supreme enforcer told the BBC on May 16: "We will not allow an opposition backed by Western imperialists to win." The opposition is forbidden from holding rallies preceding the runoff.

On May 8, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights reported that in the capital of Harare alone, "[s]o many victims [of Mugabe's enforcers] have come in with broken bones in the last 24 hours that hospitals and clinics . . . are running out of plaster of Paris" (The New York Times, May 10).

And in rural areas, where the Movement for Democratic Change did well, the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union said that at least 40,000 farm workers and their families were driven from their homes on suspicion of having voted against the Liberator.

A doctor in Harare, submerged in the wounded, said of one night's carnage: "What came in on the trucks was too pathetic for words. They can't walk. Their feet are beaten. Their buttocks are rotting. Their arms are broken. They're trying to walk on their knees." In the Economist's May 10th bloody summation: "Following the aftermath of Zimbabwe's presidential election is like watching a horror film in slow motion."

Have you heard a word of protest from Nelson Mandela, the one African whose voice could awaken the world to these horrors? I asked someone who knows Mandela about his silence on the genocide in Darfur and Zimbabweans seeking real liberation. He told me: "This liberator cannot turn against this fighter who won the independence of his country from the British."

As of this writing, nearly a hundred suspected wrong voters in the March 29 election have been murdered by Mugabe's forces, which include his loyal "war veterans" of the liberation and his merciless youth militia. More than a thousand people—including children—have been badly battered by these goon squads, and over 800 homes have been burned down.

But Mugabe is so ferociously intent on staying in power (and finishing the grand palace he's been building) that, as Doctors for Human Rights cautions, all of these figures, nightmarish as they are, "grossly underestimate the [actual] number of victims," many of whom never made even it to a hospital or doctor.

Amnesty International, raising its voice back on April 25 against the storm that was gathering even before the election, declared: "The actions taken by the police today are unacceptable. The Zimbabwean police must stop harassing political and human rights activists immediately and act to protect victims of post-election violence."

To whom are Mugabe's atrocities "unacceptable?" The United Nations, of course, is useless, as it has been for five horrifying years in Darfur. The members of the African Union confer among themselves, with only Tanzania and Zambia being openly troubled. South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki—still the main negotiator on Zimbabwe—calmly said, in the days before Mugabi's government unleashed its scorched-earth approach to the runoff: "It's just an election. I see no crisis there." Now Mbeki admits there may be one—but he remains as ineffective as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Meanwhile, some of Mugabe's terrorists are preening about their success in intimidating opponents of the deadly regime before the June 27 runoff. One of them, the Wall Street Journal reported on May 14, "showed off a written log of victims and their 'confessions' that they had voted for the opposition."

But that runoff election could be delayed for months—until Mugabe feels certain that his voter re-education program has secured a sufficiently overwhelming victory for him. The BBC predicts that on that day, "people coming to every polling station will see 'war veterans' in police uniforms" waiting to check off their ballots. Untold numbers of Zimbabweans will be too scared to show up.

Meanwhile, in Darfur's endless slow-motion horror show, the ghastly present scene is captured in the headline of a March 20 story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "No One Is Counting the Dead." This Associated Press story quotes Jan Egeland, former U.N. chief of humanitarian operations, as urging the media to stop using the ubiquitous Darfur death count of 200,000: "It's two and a half years old. It's wrong."

Now a special adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Egeland does not doubt that thousands more have been killed or died of unintended diseases in areas that humanitarian workers can no longer reach. The A.P. report grimly adds that the United Nations doesn't support the new large-scale mortality survey that Egeland insists is necessary, "because Sudan's government doesn't want one." Sudan, you see, is a sovereign state!

A new mortality survey would include the seven children killed on May 4 when—as reported by the Paris-based Sudan Tribune's website—"Sudanese government planes bombed Shegeg Karo [in] Northern Darfur." The raid's targets included a primary school. General Al-Bashir's Antonov plane (a retrofitted Russian cargo plane) destroyed kids in the second, third, and fourth grades—plus five-year-old Yusuf Adam Hamid in the kindergarten.

The names and ages are in a report by Eric Reeves, the most authoritative historian of Darfur's genocide, in the May 12 Christian Science Monitor. He asks a question that some of you may find uncomfortable: "How would Americans respond if terrorists—acting on behalf of another country—deliberately killed, with complete military impunity . . . children in one of our nation's schools? Outrage would bring the country to a halt. It would change the very nature of the presidential campaign. News coverage would be unending.

"Washington's response against the offending nation would be swift and destructive. . . . The whole world should respond vigorously to a nation that barbarously bombs kindergartners such as Yusuf Adam Hamid. Instead, we lamely bow in deference to Sudan's 'national sovereignty.' "

Next week: Only intervention by force into Zimbabwe and Sudan will put an end to these slow-motion horror shows.

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