Responsibility to Protect Zimbabwean Civilians

The New York Times Feb. 13 editorial on Zimbabwe’s new unity government got it partly right. That the country’s illegitimate president, Robert Mugabe, will not allow the new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, to establish rule of law and bring much-needed relief to the seven million starving people is an accurate presupposition based on Mugabe’s past three decades of autocratic misrule.

Mr. Mugabe stole last year’s election after Mr. Tsvangirai won the first-round vote. The best solution would have been an end to Mr. Mugabe’s rule. But with Mr. Mugabe refusing to resign and key African leaders refusing to push him out, Mr. Tsvangirai apparently decided that the power-sharing deal was his best chance to rescue his foundering country. If there is any real hope, African leaders — especially South Africa’s — must pressure Mr. Mugabe to stop tormenting the opposition and let Mr. Tsvangirai do his job. And they must make clear that if Mr. Mugabe does not, they will finally stop protecting him.

It is perhaps misguided to think that African leaders alone will now begin pressuring Mugabe to share power and stop tormenting the opposition. Just last week at the African Union Summit in Addis, I witnessed the majority of African heads of state kowtow to Mugabe as he deftly side-stepped public censure for crimes against humanity and the collapse of the country’s public health system.

Instead, the UN Security Council should compel the government of Zimbabwe to relinquish control of its health services, water supply, sanitation, and disease surveillance to the United Nations. Only when the international community gets serious about its commitment to the global responsibility to protect civilians will Zimbabweans begin to enjoy their universal human rights.

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