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Zimbabwe: West can't preach human rights
Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2007

By Reason Wafawarova
March 20, 2007


THE launch of the long-promised "defiance campaign" by the fractious MDC and its allies has, understandably, ignited debate on the political processes in Zimbabwe.

Whatever the merits or demerits of one's argument, it has to start from the realisation that the opposition launched a defiance campaign aimed at toppling the Government.

What then ensues is debate centering on the wisdom and acceptability of the strategy adopted and favoured by the opposition as well as the tactics adopted and effected by the Government as represented by its police force.

There are few pertinent questions to be pursued in this debate and these questions are centred on law and politics. If one were to pursue questions related to law and maybe to establish the relevant chronology of such questions then there might be need to start with the idea of a "defiance" campaign. A defiance campaign is different from protest and this is very important if one wants to contextualise what is happening within the confines of legality both at municipal or international law.

Defiance by definition is "daring or antagonistic resistance to authority . . ." according to The Macquarie Dictionary and protest is defined as "an expression or declaration of objection or disapproval".

It is common knowledge that both Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai, as leaders of the two factions of the MDC, have openly declared an official position to preside over a "defiance campaign" and they have not ignored the illegality of such a campaign.

Mutambara was quoted as saying following the law would be akin to allowing the Government to tell the opposition how to conduct its struggle while Tsvangirai is on record saying the Public Order and Security Act was there "to be broken." In the context of defiance, the statements from these opposition leaders are in line but there is the question of the legal legitimacy of taking up such a position.

Needless to say, at municipal law, that is Zimbabwean domestic law, such a resolve is outlawed as plain rebellion if not treason. At international law, there is the problem of how to balance the doctrine of sovereignty and non-interference with individual human rights such as association, expression, affiliation and conscience. While the Bill of Rights provides for a protection of all these rights, domestic law tends to determine such things as the legality and acceptability of what one associates with, of what one expresses themselves about, of what one affiliates themselves with and what one subscribes their conscience to.

To this end these human rights tend to lose their absolute status and to assume a regulated form with what respective governments and people view as acceptable limitations.

Before taking any position on the legality and acceptability of what the opposition has done or has resolved to do, let us take a look at the State's response.

Firstly, we are told there was a rally that turned violent when the opposition's "Democratic Resistance Commit-tees" clashed with police and there are reports of casualties on the police side. The police responded by evoking a temporary ban on political rallies in specific areas of the capital. They used the powers bestowed on them by the supreme law of Zimbabwe, the national Constitution. The ban was ignored as the opposition vowed to defy it and proceed with its plans, with or without the permission or blessing of the police.

The opposition went ahead with the planned rallies, this time using some church leaders as a front.

The police moved in and deployed details to seal off the rally venue and some of the invited people turned up for the rally. An argument ensued between the police and the leaders of the opposition and the crowd got excited if not incited. The police rounded up the leadership and ferried it to a police station while leaving a smaller and weaker deployment behind. The crowd and the remaining police officers clashed and one person was shot dead while opposition supporters assaulted several police officers.

The crowd was in a confrontational mood and the police were perhaps in a retaliatory mood following the assaults. There were reports that the arrested were beaten in police custody while police maintain they only used the force necessary to effect arrest on those resisting arrest. Again we will not take a position on the legality and acceptability of the police action for now, but we will do that later.

Now, the assaults and the shooting were all taken within the context of a defiance campaign until news filtered that the alleged beatings of those arrested included one of the faction leaders, Morgan Tsvangirai. The US, Britain and New Zealand quickly issued statements condemning the alleged beatings; threats and ultimatums were also issued against the Government in general and President Mugabe in particular.

British premier, Tony Blair described the situation as "truly tragic" and the Government concurred only for the reasons that it was Tony Blair's tragedy of losing the plot to topple a democratically elected government.

President Mugabe responded saying if the West was going to look the other way when the victims of political violence are perceived to be pro-Government and only cry foul for those from the opposition, then they (the West) could "go hang".

Now the political questions to be raised here would include the question of the West's political interests in the affairs of Zimbabwe. Who is best placed to serve those interests?

The other question is the Government's desire to safeguard its mandate and to protect the national interest. Interest accruing from the gains of the Second Chimurenga, which was a 14-year war of attrition against a conventional force powered by Ian Smith and the apartheid South Africa regime.

Zanu-PF sees in the West, an attempt by the erstwhile oppressor to return by proxy through the MDC which is distrusted by the larger rural populace that bore the brunt of the struggle. On the other hand, the West has resolved to topple President Mugabe for alleged bad governance.

Part of this includes the Government's decision to compulsorily acquire farms from white commercial farmers for redistribution to landless black peasants.

The land reform programme saw the EU, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand slapping ruinous sanctions on Zimbabwe.

The Western interest in the MDC has not received the support of African governments. In fact, the MDC and its Western backers have openly expressed frustration with the African Union in general and South Africa in particular for what they perceive as their open support for the Government.

The same Western alliance was in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s pursuing its ideological interests. It had a lot of bad things to say about the Vietnamese regime.

The alliance is in Iraq where it again talked itself "right" saying bad things about the Baath regime.

It also talked "right" about itself, vilifying the USSR, and got it all wrong when it declared the "end of history" after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.

It again said trash about China's human rights record but again got it wrong, as it now needs China more than China needs it.

The point here is the Zimbabwean situation falls in the context of Western battles for imperial authority and supreme control of the world system.

The legitimacy of the opposition's call for a defiance campaign is just as debatable as the Government's use of force to thwart such defiance or rebellion. If the opposition at least pretended to be protesting, then it would have been easier to argue its case. Instead it vowed to defy the Government and try to unseat it through violence.

Whether the force used to quell the attempted insurrection was proportionate or not is debatable but as it stands the West's biased support for the opposition, and the MDC's vow to continue street violence will only legitimise any action the police might take against those involved in the campaign.

The Government says the opposition has no right to disobey the law and the opposition's handlers from the West have no right to interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, while the opposition claims the laws it is meant to obey are repressive.

The question is; is it democratic for a group of people in a country that holds regular and periodic elections to adopt a strategy of using force in attempts to assume power unless there is consensus that the electoral system is undemocratic?

Is there such consensus among Zimbabweans, is there any in Sadc, is there any in the African Union and is there any in the United Nations?

Without taking any positions on what has just happened in recent days in Zimbabwe, one might just see the difference between talking it right on human rights and actually getting it right on internal contexts of conflicts, based on domestic politics, values, culture and historical factors.

This is where the West misses. It seems the West is driven by its own capitalist interests as evidenced by its silence on Pakistan were not less than six demonstrators, not sworn rebels, were shot down by police about the same time one Gift Tandare was gunned down in Highfield.

Such double standards make the implementation of law at international level very problematic.


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