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All Bark and No Bite? The International Response to Zimbabwe's Crisis

The 9-10 March 2002 presidential election is the decisive date for Zimbabwe's intensifying crisis. With political violence escalating, new repressive legislation has highlighted the government’s efforts to clamp down on the media, the judicial system, civil society and the political opposition in order to retain power by any means. International action, not merely further expressions of concern, is needed before time runs out on the possibility of conducting the freer and fairer election that is the best chance to head off destabilisation that would inevitably cross the country's borders and affect all southern Africa.

With maximum feasible coordination between the Commonwealth, the European Union (EU), the United States (U.S.), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and complementary steps within the United Nations, this international action should concentrate on four areas:

q imposition of targeted sanctions on key decision-makers, particularly those responsible for undermining the rule of law and institutionalising state violence;
q support for voter turnout to increase the chances that the will of Zimbabwe's people can be fulfilled;
q robust "monitoring" or "observation" of the election process, beginning well in advance of the dates on which voting is held; and,
q delivery through public and private diplomacy of a message that no government will be recognised if the March election is stolen.

According to the limited polling evidence available, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, lead in voter preference. However, President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government seeks to beat and intimidate voters either to withdraw their support from the MDC or not to vote at all. MDC leaders are being killed and others arrested on petty charges or harassed. The government is deploying troops for internal repression and training a paramilitary force to backstop the ongoing efforts of "war veterans", who over the last two years have wreaked havoc on opposition officials, farm owners, farm workers, and other perceived opponents of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The Supreme Court, until recently a bulwark of the rule of law, has been packed with pro-government justices, and no confidence remains that the judicial system retains independence. Support for farm invasions by military, police and security personnel has created an atmosphere of lawlessness.

The economy is deteriorating with more than 75 per cent of the population living under the poverty line. Short-sighted policies have led to a more than 7 per cent contraction of GDP and suspension of foreign aid. Despite the country’s enormous agricultural potential, crippling farm invasions and price controls have produced a situation in which Zimbabwe must now import hundreds of thousands of tons of maize to feed its people.

The ZANU-PF government discounts the numerous ultimatums and threats the international community has issued to date because none has yet been backed up with meaningful action. It is all the more important, therefore, that the international community begin to move as early as the meeting of EU foreign ministers (28-29 January 2002) on at least some of the fronts suggested in this report because despite the repression, there is still a distinct possibility that the election can reflect the will of the people and offer hope for a way out of the downward spiral.



1. Implement before the end of January 2002, as proof of serious intent, a framework of targeted sanctions that would be directed first at a small group of top government leaders but allow for incremental increase in pressure through expansion to additional officials.

2. Press Zimbabwe to implement the conditions for free and fair elections that have formally been agreed within SADC, including by Zimbabwe itself, and send a clear, unified message to President Mugabe and the Zimbabwean public that if the election is stolen the results will not be recognised, and Zimbabwe will be isolated.

3. Increase assistance to civil society organisations and reduce delivery timelines to provide immediate help, particularly with the objective of supporting voter turnout.

4. Develop a comprehensive communications strategy to spread the messages that “your vote counts, and your vote will be secret”.

5. Make clear that land reform is a real issue that the international community is prepared to assist with but that it must be dealt with in the context of the rule of law and with the involvement of all key parties.

6. Make clear to South Africa, Nigeria and other key African countries that their constructive agenda for the continent, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), will be regarded as stillborn by G-8 countries if they do not respond more actively to the test of Zimbabwe’s crisis.


7. Begin in January 2002 a credible process pointing toward suspension of Zimbabwe at the 2-5 March 2002 Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) if the conditions for a free and fair election clearly have not been met.


8. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should travel to Zimbabwe, or send a senior representative, before the election and report findings in order to prepare for discussion at the session of the Commission on Human Rights that convenes 18 March 2002.

Harare/Brussels, 25 January 2002


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