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Action, not words is what's needed now in Zimbabwe, says Schaeffer

Taking Action

Ute Schaeffer (ls)
December 12, 2008

Zimbabwe's ruler Robert Mugabe is destroying his country and trampling human rights as the international community looks on. It's an impossibility and a sign of helplessness, says Deutsche Welle's Ute Schaeffer.


Has the end finally come for the despot Mugabe? Comments from the international community leave the question unanswered. "It is appropriate for Robert Mugabe to leave," says the American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But then she adds, "It is time that the international community forces Mugabe from office." Europeans also see it this way – all 27 countries are united in the opinion that that Mugabe should retire, said EU External Commissioner Javier Solana after talks with the Rice at the beginning of the week in Brussels.

This all sounds good, even when reaching such clarity has taking a long time. But what will this bring for the people of Zimbabwe? Who will throw the senile, self-obsessed dictator Mugabe from the throne to which he is clutching for dear life?

Time running out for Zimbabwe

Enough with all of these trite political messages! The decision-makers in Brussels and Washington should be called. The people of Zimbabwe don't have any more time to lose. Take a close look: Mugabe is letting his own people starve and his country rot. He is crushing his opponents and Zimbabwe's potential. Do people really need to be reminded of what is in the International Declaration of Human Rights, which just celebrated another anniversary?

Ute Schaeffer
Ute Schaeffer

They are undeniable, basic human rights that are being violated every day in Zimbabwe: the right to freedom of thought and expression, the right to express political will and vote, the right to social security, the right to life and physical integrity and the right to education.

Dear states and democrats who have established the regard and assurance of human rights in foreign policy and multi-lateral domestic policies for yourselves: Do something other than issue trite political messages. Take action. It's not enough to tighten the sanctions against representative of the Mugabe regime (like the Europeans do), it's not enough to send expert commissions who should solve the water crisis (like the South Africans do). And it won't be enough to send humanitarian aid for millions of Zimbabweans.

Happy birthday for human rights?

It isn't about the supply crisis in Zimbabwe. It's about the massive disregard for fundamental human rights and the international community is losing its credibility as it does nothing -– right at the anniversary of the general Declaration of Human Rights, coincidentally enough.

What would happen if the situation in Zimbabwe were to happen in Ukraine or in the Balkans? Would the international community step in? In my opinion, yes it would! But different rules apply for Africa. Europeans and Americans are happy to take responsibility for Africans. Or at least in theory. So it is high time for a crisis summit with the US-Europe-African Union. Why not put the talked-about relationship between Europe and Africa to the test? Why can't these three parties see themselves as advocates of human rights and decide upon a united course of action for the people of Zimbabwe and against the dictator Mugabe. Why is it so difficult to talk to Africa, which can see how its own democratic ideals and therewith the ideal of a new, reformed Africa are being betrayed everyday by its neighbors. The key to Mugabe's fall lies in supporting South Africa and its neighbors by necessity. The international community shouldn't get deeply involved in make joint efforts, but rather request bilateral talks for each country with the government in Pretoria.

The question of why our policy in the case of Zimbabwe appears to be so anemic, shameful and weak is as easy as it is disgraceful: The catastrophe is too far away and other standards apply for Africa – even in our foreign policy.

When it comes to human rights, it seems that out of sight is out of mind.

Ute Schaeffer is an Africa expert in the Africa and Middle East department of DW-Radio in Bonn.

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