|Montreal, October 15, 2004 / No 147|
by Ralph Maddocks
The creeping globalisation of government, presided over by the unelected dissemblers at the United Nations, and that organisation's relationship to its various member states is a disgrace. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) tells us that: "The United Nations is committed to upholding, promoting and protecting the human rights of every individual." A canon which seems to be observed most often in the breach.
With very rare exceptions the UN, and its various agencies, have always
been a sorry bunch of accomplished illusionists representing countries
whose interests lie not in improving the human condition à la
UDHR but in creating and sustaining in perpetuum a stage where their
leaders may strut and a trough in which their recycled, self-serving unelected
officials may bury their snouts. A place where gulosity knows no bounds
and where all are guaranteed a comfortable berth on the gravy train to
unlimited and undeserved wealth. One has only to look at the UN's doleful
performance in Bosnia, Kosovo or Rwanda, its farcical Human Rights conference
in Durban, South Africa – which condemned the western democracies and Israel
but ignored the African kleptocracies – and its recent dealings with Darfur
and the Sudanese government to understand where its real interests lie.
Left wing peaceniks seem to relish demonstrating against the western democracies, especially those of the USA and the UK, but one never sees any demonstrations against the ineffectual UN. No concern is ever expressed about matters such as Libya occupying the chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – despite that country's undoubted links with terrorism and torture. The same people ignore the stratocracies like Burma (sorry Myanmar) which, since 1988, has been under the military rule of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – formerly known as SLORC – an abominable military junta. A junta under the control, since 23 April 1992, of the so-called Chairman of the SPDC, Sr. Gen. Than Shwe who virtually imprisons the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democratic movement in that benighted country. Nor were demonstrators in evidence some years ago when Iraq was expected to chair a UN conference on disarmament.
Have readers ever seen, or read of, any demonstrations about Syria's virtual occupation of Lebanon? Has anyone protested about its recent pressuring of Lebanon's cabinet to endorse a constitutional change designed to let the compliant President Émile Lahoud extend his, soon to expire, six-year term for three more years? A constitutional change which Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a fierce foe of Mr. Lahoud, had strongly opposed until, ominously, he was visited recently by the Syrian chief of military intelligence. With some 20,000 Syrian troops on hand to enforce Syria's will in the country, Lebanon's parliament did not see fit to block the measure. In an effort to induce the gullible to believe that it was concerned, the UN passed a resolution, suitably watered down, deploring it all.
Can anyone, who has not arrived recently from another planet, be surprised that the lengthening list of thugs like Khadaffi, Saddam Hussein, Mugabe, Kim Il Jong, Assad, Than Shwe and a whole cavalcade of others, simply ignore the UN and do exactly as they please?
One country, Zimbabwe, seems to be studiously ignored by the UN where recently, the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) announced that it would not be taking part in any future elections at any level. Their statement was rather carefully worded and wrote of "suspending participation" until "political space" had been opened up and a legal, institutional and administrative framework had been established. The end of the document spoke of "the continuous efforts of the Zanu PF government to prevent the elected Harare Council from carrying out their basic functions. As a result of this unrelenting political interference with their activities, and the government's demonstrable contempt for their roles as democratically elected representatives of the people, the remaining MDC councillors in the city have this morning decided to resign en masse."
Following the politics of Zimbabwe is rather difficult for the residents and virtually impossible for those outside the country. Snippets appear in the press from time to time such as this or that farm being taken over by some thugs, or as they invariably describe themselves, veterans. We have no real idea though what daily life is like for the citizens of that benighted kleptocracy led by the incult Mugabe. From all accounts life there is harsh, and becoming more so!
It is hard to imagine what it must be like to live in a country where inflation in mid August this year was reported to be some 400%, when five years ago it was only 25%! Three months earlier, in May, if someone needed to send an important letter, it cost Zim$500. In mid-August, it costs Zim$2,300 just for the stamp, apart from the cost of the stationary, envelope, ink and perhaps the wages of the typist. Three months ago a three minute phone call cost $120, now that same three minute call costs $585.
Fuel supplies are now restricted throughout the country, following an eight month period of relatively uncomplicated supply, because their hard currency is insufficient to cover the rising cost of fuel imports. Unleaded gasoline is unavailable inside the country and one economist has commented that the spiraling costs of crude oil are pushing the country to the point where it will soon run out of currency reserves to pay for oil or other imported commodities. Previously, the government imported its fuel mainly from Libya and South Africa, but both countries stopped sales to Zimbabwe more than a year ago when Harare failed to pay its bills. The situation is being further compounded by a 75 percent drop in Zimbabwe's tobacco production which was traditionally that country's largest source of foreign currency, earning at their peak five years ago about 40 percent of the total. The fuel shortage is the most visible sign that the economy is continuing to fail and economists say that without energy, Zimbabwe's floundering economy will decline ever faster.
Zimbabwe is a land where AIDS is ravaging the population, a land where even "official" estimates are that 3,000 people are dying from AIDS every week. Unofficial estimates of the AIDS death rate are even higher. Imagine living in a country where almost 8 out of 10 people are unemployed and where there are hundreds of thousands of people who are HIV positive, some 34% of the entire population by all accounts, but who cannot afford one modest meal a day let alone the antiretroviral drugs they need. The obituary notices in the newspapers, and the dates on the headstones in the cemeteries, are filled with people who have died in their twenties and thirties. Zimbabwean life expectancy is now just 33 years, compared to 47 five years ago. For comparative purposes, in Canada it is over 76 for a man and about 82 for a woman.
Graves in Zimbabwean cemeteries are opened by thieves so that coffins can be stolen and re-sold for use by other grieving families unable to afford the cost of a new one. To describe the mismanagement, corruption and loss of democracy caused by the Mugabe government would take far more space than is available here, so only a few of the highlights will find their way into this column. In 2000, when speaking to the nation after the defeat of the constitutional referendum, President Mugabe said the result was ‘unfortunate' and: "The world now knows Zimbabwe as that country where opposing views can file so singly and so peacefully to and from the booth without incident. I have every confidence that the forthcoming general elections will be just as orderly, peaceful and dignified."
Since that time, the daily independent press has disappeared – closed down by the government. The last independent paper, the privately owned Tribune newspaper lost its court battle to re-open just last July, becoming the third Zimbabwean independent paper to have been closed down in less than a year. An abridgement of UDHR's Article 19 no doubt. The extent of communication and access to information is getting smaller by the day and will be reduced even more by the law enacted in June which required all Internet Service Providers (ISP) to allow the Zimbabwean government to monitor the e-mail correspondence of their subscribers. The Act also forbade the ISP's from informing their clients that their e-mails were being read by government agents. Similar in content to acts proposed in democracies presided over by Tony Blair and George W. Bush, the Telecommunications Act, originally mooted two years ago, was struck down in March this year by the Supreme Court which ruled that these clauses of the Act were unconstitutional.
Zimbabwe's ISP's were nevertheless informed that they must sign contracts with the government, a government which of course owns the entire country's telephone system, obliging all ISP's to provide tracing facilities for what the Zimbabwe government call ‘nuisance or malicious messages or communications.' The contracts force the ISP's to block the content and report any malicious messages to the government. The contract further states that the "use of the network for anti-national activities will be regarded as an offence punishable under Zimbabwean law." It was not immediately clear what an ‘anti-national' message may consist of, or who will decide if such an e-mail is patriotic or not, but given the experience in other countries it doesn't take too much imagination to work it out. In a singular act of defiance one ISP said that it was prepared to close down rather than agree to spy on its clients. The largest ISP in the country though said that it would block mail and divulge the source of its customers' e-mails if required to do so by law.
The Zimbabwean constitution has been changed to allow the state to seize private property, an assumed violation of UDHR's Article 17. Analogous perhaps to the actions of the Quebec government's tax department in bankrupting of JTI-MacDonald for $1.4 billion in allegedly unpaid taxes without holding a trial first to determine the company's guilt or innocence. Seizing private property in Zimbabwe has been done with joyful abandon, plunging a country which once supplied its surplus food to neighbouring countries into such devastation that the people would be starving if it were not for the efforts of relief agencies.
There are no longer any private radio and television stations, they have been banned by the government. But then didn't I just read that in Canada a similar thing has been proposed in respect to a Quebec radio station? A station which was alleged to be contravening unexplained ‘Canadian values.'
Thousands of born and bred Zimbabweans have been made stateless and stripped of their right to vote, a violation of UDHR Article 21. Even Sir Garfield Todd, the former Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia and one of few white people recognised by President Mugabe's government as a champion of the black people's fight against racism during the liberation struggle, was denied the vote in the last presidential election.
Legislation has been enacted making it a criminal offence to criticise the President and a criminal offence to hold a political meeting without police permission. It is even a criminal offence to sell maize to anyone other than the state. Canadian grain farmers might see some connection with this kind of legislation themselves. When the Zimbabwean parliament re-opens in October, it is even expected that it will become a criminal offence to operate a charity without government approval.
Every Zimbabwean election since the year 2000 has resembled a battle field. Joining the opposition party means making what is literally a life or death decision. The carrying of an MDC membership card, the wearing of their T-shirt or even being openly involved in their party in any way, easily provokes the wrath of the Mugabe government and its adherents. Opponents have been brutalised in various and unimaginable ways: they have been beaten, burned, stoned, tortured, raped, maimed and even murdered. Homes have been burned by petrol bombs and their contents and fixtures looted by government paid thugs. One organisation reported over 8,000 cases of human rights violations in Zimbabwe in just two years. The well known Human Rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was brutalised by the police when she reported being car-jacked for a second time within a few days. This was during the time she was defending the Daily News, one of the country's last independent daily newspapers, closed down by police in September 2003.
The legal system operates mostly at the behest of the government and court orders are routinely enforced selectively. The police and prison authorities no longer consider the courts as the final arbiters of basic rights. It is the politicians and the police who now determine which court orders are to be respected and which will be ignored. Regrettably, the courts are reluctant to have those flouting its orders imprisoned for contempt. Judgements that are not in favour of the government are subjected to vilification by the state controlled media.
During the last four and a half years, at each and every election, the rules have been changed by the Mugabe government. Constituency boundaries have been altered at the last minute, polling stations in heavily populated areas have been reduced in number and increased in remote areas. Fixed polling stations have been changed into mobile ones and the opposition has even been denied its right to inspect the voters roll. In April last, electoral amendments were gazetted prior to being debated in parliament. Those amendments prohibited anyone but government organisations to conduct or fund voter education. Postal ballots are forbidden to anyone save people on military or diplomatic duty, making the chance of a free and fair election little more than a dream.
A regime change is very obviously needed if this country is to survive. Some say that the Zimbabweans ought to do something about it themselves, but such advice however well intended is totally unrealistic. Just as in Nazi Germany and Iraq it was impossible for the oppressed citizenry to revolt so change is unlikely to come from the citizens of Zimbawe. As Beatrice Mtetwa noted, the problem is that Zimbaweans are all so caught up with day to day activities like paying bills and affording food and clothes that they just do not have the time or energy to worry about the bigger issues of governance, democracy and human rights. How right she is, because when it comes down to it, if you are supporting a large extended family, of say a couple of dozen people, you cannot afford to do or say anything that may jeopardize their lives, or yours. Meanwhile, last month, the philodox Mugabe was applauded vigorously for attacking the USA and the UK at the UN and Zimbabwe's diplomats in New York continue to dine in some of that city's finest restaurants while the rest of the UN closes its eyes and ears to the plight of the Zimbabwean people. After all they probably haven't read UDHR Article 30.