Scholar Traces Roots of Crisis in Zimbabwe
December 10, 2008 — With an illegal regime holding power in Zimbabwe, the rule of law in other lands could help restore democracy to the besieged country, a South African scholar and human rights advocate said during a visit to Earle Mack School of Law on Dec. 10.
The event, sponsored by Earle Mack School of Law’s International Law and Human Rights Society, featured the firsthand perspective of Nicole Fritz, a visiting professor at Fordham University Law School and executive director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which advocates for human rights in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
Fritz described horrific conditions for the people of Zimbabwe, from government-imposed brutality to skyrocketing inflation to a cholera epidemic.
Behind much of the turmoil is longtime President Robert Mugabe, who initially showed great promise as the first elected leader after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Fritz said, noting that he launched a public education system that was unrivalled in Southern Africa.
But Mugabe evolved into a corrupt despot who rigged elections and came to rely increasingly on violent militias that helped him quash political opposition, Fritz explained.
Despite optimism that the March 2008 election would produce a fair result, she said, the process fell apart, enabling Mugabe to retain control of the country illegally and escalate his campaign against dissent.
“Robert Mugabe and his government now occupy power by unlawful means,” Fritz said.
The international community’s commitment to law offers a potentially potent remedy for the grim situation, said Fritz, whose organization has successfully pressed the South African government to investigate and prosecute Zimbabwean officials who have engaged in torture and other crimes.
As a signer of the International Criminal Court, South Africa can and has launched efforts to hold war criminals to account for their deeds, if they leave Zimbabwe and go to South Africa, Fritz explained.
The U.S. has also played a helpful role, Fritz said, noting that the ambassador to Zimbabwe has risked his own safety in order to visit police stations and make inquiries about missing attorneys and political opponents of Mugabe.
But more widespread condemnation and legal actions are needed, she warned.
“I fear that with the global economic recession that’s hit, people are so tuned into their own hardships that they’re not going to feel the same call to action,” she said. “My worst fear is that the window is closing.”
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