23 October 2006

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Could Be Headed for the Hague

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe could live to regret his encouragement of the police to deal ruthlessly with protesters, The Standard has learnt.

On Thursday the House of Lords recommended that Mugabe's exhortations to the police to beat up trade union demonstrators could be used to arraign him before the International Court of Justice at The Hague for crimes against humanity.

Speaking during a stop-over in Cairo, Egypt, on his way from the United Nations recently Mugabe praised the police for their brutal assault on leaders of the labour movement and civic society activists. Mugabe warned anyone contemplating demonstrating against his government because of deteriorating levels of poverty that they would face the full wrath of the law.

But the House of Lords in debate that put Zimbabwe under the spotlight said Mugabe's comments amounted to claiming responsibility for the actions of the police and would be relevant if matters came to The Hague.

Baroness D'Souza suggested the British government use the full array of legal, diplomatic and other measures open to the UK and the European Union in order to create a critical mass of international opinion and to support those in Zimbabwe who bear the "unspeakable brunt of repression".

She recalled the 2005 report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs which recommended that the UK start a campaign for the referral of Mugabe to the International Criminal Court for "his manifold and monstrous" crimes against the people of Zimbabwe.

Torture in Zimbabwe, Baroness D'Souza said, was widespread, systematic and severe and therefore constituted a crime against humanity.

She said: "Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, there is a duty on all those who signed up to the statute to bring a prosecution at the Court in The Hague. Perhaps now is the time to initiate a campaign on that."

She went further, calling for the exclusion of the Zimbabwe police from participating in "any international peace-keeping missions". Zimbabwe has just sent a new contingent of police officers to Kosovo.

Baroness Park of Monmouth said Mugabe only thinks in terms of command operations and cited the increasing role of the military in various key institutions, which role she said had produced disastrous consequences.

In Matabeleland, she said, the brutality of the soldiers and their absolute power had brought back the memories of the "murderous destruction wrought by 5 Brigade in the 1980s".

But the Earl of Sandwich, noting Zimbabwe's rapid decline, which has seen a once prosperous state being transformed from a breadbasket to a basket case remarked: "This is largely the achievement of one man who has transformed himself from an acclaimed idol of the liberation struggle to a ruthless dictator, who is well past his sell-by date . . ."

Describing himself as an optimist for Zimbabwe, Lord St John of Bletso, said there have been many false dawns for Zimbabwe and her long-suffering people in recent years when it seemed a deal would be struck and a government of national unity established and law and order restored.

But he said the arrest of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia scuttled everything. "The incident scared Robert Mugabe into believing that the same fate might await him. He therefore prefers to cling to power."

He however said he would expect the UK to play a major role in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe and in this respect recommended that the British government start promoting a Marshall Aid programme to support the swift recovery of Zimbabwe.

"The fundamentals," he said, "remain in place and when the time comes, Her Majesty's Government must be ready to lead the recovery and to incentivise and motivate the international community to rebuild that wonderful country."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Triesman, warned that Mugabe's Goliath was "creating millions of Davids within Zimbabwe and millions more in the Diaspora. He should reflect on that. The time for his regime change has gone."

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