The UN says Zimbabwe's government is hiding the full scale of its cholera epidemic. Original video from the UK's Sky News. Nicole Belle sent me a l
January 14, 2009

The UN says Zimbabwe's government is hiding the full scale of its cholera epidemic. Original video from the UK's Sky News.

Nicole Belle sent me a link today about a report by Physicians for Human Rights on the horror story Zimbabwe has become:

PHR found that the Mugabe government has withheld food aid, seed, and fertilizer to rural provinces in order to starve political opponents; that the regime nationalized and then withheld routine support for municipal water and sewer systems from cities that elected political opponents; that the health care infrastructure and the economy itself is nearing utter collapse; corruption is the rule not the exception; and that the regime brutally silences critics to cover its crimes, profound corruption and incompetence (see report here).

“While we were there,” Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights told Religion Dispatches, “human rights activists were imprisoned and tortured.”

“People think that the most compelling problem is cholera,” he said (and indeed, the cholera outbreak has been widely reported). But, adds Donaghue, it is also a symptom of more profound underlying problems. “The issue is the collapse of the government, the economy, and the health system” he said. “Human waste is running down the streets. Kids are playing in it. The sewage system is in such bad repair that you get sewage in tap water.”

and added:

This could so easily be a big foreign policy headache for Obama, too easily reminiscent of the Clinton policy in Rwanda -- with Hillary Clinton at State...

And it wouldn't hurt progressives to get out ahead on this

Nicole's correct. But what to do? I just don't see the US being able to act alone or cobble together another Coalition of the Willing without the UN's blessing. Mugabe is as nutz as the neocons would like us to think Ahmadinejad is and has the military's backing - sanctions and political pressure likely won't do a thing. Zimbabwe has only 30,000 of an army and an almost non-existent airforce so intervention by force would be a "cakewalk" the primary (invasion) phase...

But then there's the many short and long term drawbacks of yet another invasion and occupation to consider. South Africa's support and basing agreements would be essential. There would certainly be an insurgency of some kind. Accusations of colonialism and imperialist invasions would echo and probably rightly so. The US and others are still not set up for nation-building. The UK already has military contingency plans in place but has said clearly it won't go it alone for these very reasons.

The best bet, to my mind, would be a UN-mandated relief effort, protected by a UN-mandated force - which would have to include African troops. That's likely inadequate to the problem, but it's what's feasible in both short and long terms and a bit of help is better than no help at all.

The situation is certainly dire enough that PHR is asking for UN intervention.

Control of Zimbabwe's shattered health system should be handed over to the United Nations, an independent doctors group has demanded.

As the official death toll from the country's cholera epidemic yesterday topped 2,000, Physicians for Human Rights said government corruption was killing innocent people. The international doctors' group also called for President Robert Mugabe to be investigated by the International Criminal Court at the launch of a report titled Health in Ruins – A Man-made Disaster in Zimbabwe.

Is Zimbabwe a justified cause for a UN-approved coalition empowered under the Responsibility to Protect principles as ratified at the 2001 ICISS summit and recognized under UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006)? This resolution technically commits Security Council members to intervene in situations like this (if they are deemed to qualify as "genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity").

At that point, the first problem becomes one of getting such a resolution passed. China, which is heavily invested in Zimbabwe and thus the Mugabe government, might well veto any such move and some of Zimbabwe's neighbours including SA wouldn't be too happy at the prospect of refugees streaming across their borders. The second problem, of course, would be affording such a military-supported relief effort in the midst of an economic crisis. The third, stopping Zimbabwe turning into another quagmire.

Until recently, I thought that negotiations between the government and its main rival might provide a solution, but now it's obvious they won't. I'm not entirely opposed to the notion of using force for humanitarian interventions but I am very opposed to the notion that a new Zimbabwe effort would also open the door to more of the same after Iraq slammed it closed good and hard. The neo-whatevers, who have always loved war more than the humanitarian reasons they advance for those wars, would just love that. Since I'm no longer certain as to what to think, so this post is by way of asking for thoughts and debate.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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