US State Department's Zimbabwe Human Rights Report Lacks Words on Right to Health

The US Department of State released this week its human rights report card for 194 countries and territories, which it has submitted annually to the US Congress in compliance with the federal Foreign Assistance Act (PDF) since 1977.

It took a whopping 26,000 words to describe the Mugabe regime's "pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights" during 2008.

You'd think the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which wrote the tome, would address most if not all of the rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But that's not the case.

As part of the PHR delegation who traveled to Zimbabwe to investigate Mugabe's immiseration of the health sector in December 2008, I was eager to read the State Department's report and compare findings. What? Not one paragraph devoted to violations of the right to health in Zimbabwe? The 2008 collapse of the health sector in Zimbabwe was unprecedented in scale and scope, and the State Department didn't address it?!

This dearth of information should in no way imply the counter-factual position that Mugabe's ZANU-PF regime respects and protects the right to health. In fact, the PHR delegation found that the health crisis in Zimbabwe is a direct outcome of the malfeasance of the ZANU-PF government and the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights—not just civil and political rights, which the US State Department details.

PHR documented violations of

  • the right to life due to:
    • uncontrolled cholera epidemic
    • cessation and obstruction of humanitarian aid
    • lack of access to emergency obstetric care
    • changes in ARV regimens
  • the prohibition against torture:
    • widespread ZANU-PF policy of torture, intimidation, kidnappings and other inhuman and degrading treatment
  • core obligations of the rights to health, water, and food such as:
    • denial of equal access to health services on a non-discriminatory basis directly following from the dollarization of the health sector
    • denial of access to medicines
    • denial of access to safe water and adequate sanitation
    • denial of minimum essential food that is nutritionally adequate

Perhaps Secretary of State Clinton will conduct a more thorough assessment of human rights violations when reporting to Congress next year.

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