Mr. Mugabe's Violence

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE EVIDENCE is now overwhelming that the Zimbabwean regime of Robert Mugabe is engaged in a massive, orchestrated and brutal campaign to punish and terrorize its opponents. Security forces and militia groups loyal to the 84-year-old autocrat have rampaged across the countryside for the past month, targeting opposition activists and whole villages suspected of having voted against the government in the March 29 elections. In some areas, torture camps have been established where victims are taken and beaten while their homes are looted and burned. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association said yesterday that at least 10 people have been killed and hundreds displaced; the opposition Movement for Democratic Change counts 15 dead, 3,000 refugees and 500 hospitalized.

While this criminal repression goes on, Mr. Mugabe is still blocking the release of the results of the presidential vote held one month ago. Using totals posted by individual election districts, independent monitors have calculated that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe by a wide margin, though it is not clear whether he obtained the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff. But while the electoral commission finally confirmed Saturday that the opposition won a majority in Parliament, it has repeatedly delayed the certification of the presidential vote; yesterday it said it would not begin until Thursday. While the bureaucrats drag their feet, Mr. Mugabe's campaign of terror continues in the countryside -- and virtually ensures that if a presidential runoff is held it will not be free or fair. "What we are witnessing constitutes a form of rigging," said the chairman of the human rights association.

In few places in the world could such a brazen operation proceed without triggering intervention by neighbors or the United Nations. Sadly, Zimbabwe remains one of those places, largely because the president of its most powerful neighbor, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, has chosen to shield Mr. Mugabe from pressure. Though the U.N. Security Council finally met to consider the Zimbabwean situation yesterday, it did so in private and issued no statement -- because its current chairman happens to be from South Africa. The Southern African Development Community has been similarly stymied, even though its chairman, Zambia's Levy Mwanawasa, has courageously stood up against Mr. Mugabe.

The rest of the world can no longer allow this criminal violence to continue unpunished. To its credit, the European Union yesterday endorsed a British proposal for a global arms embargo against Zimbabwe, which this month tried to import a shipload of arms from China. The Bush administration dispatched an assistant secretary of state, Jendayi Frazer, to the region in an attempt to mobilize pressure on Mr. Mugabe. In an interview with the Associated Press on Sunday, Ms. Frazer correctly said that "the international community has a responsibility to step in and try to stop that government from beating its own population." The United States should begin working immediately with other members of the Security Council on an arms embargo and other sanctions aimed at forcing an end to the violence -- and compelling Mr. Mugabe to accept the election results.

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