Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dear HRW: you can't prosecute someone and negotiate with them at the same time

Human Rights Watch has released a new report on Zimbabwe. They are condemning the country for not prosecuting those who were responsible for killings and torture around the 2008 elections. They claim there is a 'crisis of impunity' in the country and want someone (they fail to mention who*) to stop Zimbabwe holding elections this year unless there is reform.

I sometimes wonder if Human Rights Watch lives in a magical bubble where they honestly believe an independent, objective judiciary is somehow immune when the rest of a country slips into dictatorship, violence or fear. More importantly (because there is some evidence that some independent, responsible judges remain in Zimbabwe) that the police and security forces can remain independent? Who exactly is going to do the arresting?

Am I missing the point? Are these countries really a lot more functional and stable than I have been led to believe? Is this a lot like the UN spending ages worrying about the proper procedural functional of the Somali government when their scope of influence is half a capital city and an often-attacked airport? Telling the people in power that they should be prosecuted isn't going to make them more open to your more constructive suggestions. The power-sharing agreement wasn't a magic wand that made everyone suddenly believe in human rights.

We know what happened in Zimbabwe. There were contested elections that ZANU-PF probably didn't win. In order to prevent Mugabe from simply killing off the opposition (which given his previous genocidal tendencies was not beyond the realm of possibility), SADC stepped in and got him to the negotiating table. A unity government resulted. It hasn't been ideal and hasn't lived up to many people's expectations, but the country moved out of hyperinflation and the slow, painful process of rebuilding the economy has begun. The slightly improved stability has meant that there was more access, for INGOs and other people who could help, to those in the most need. The country is still a mess, in many ways, but the rapid descent into utter chaos and devastation was slowed and may even be reversed.

Negotiations, increased access for NGOs, a halt to the free-fall of the Zim economy could not have happened, had some magical, mythical body been prosecuting Mugabe and co. Yes, justice is important, and law and order is important, and free and fair elections are important, but at what point are they less important than people's lives?

*And no, South Africa cannot simply invade because they're not functioning the way we think they should - the previous government tried that and it did not end well. 

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