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Jewish World Review Dec. 26, 2002 / 21 Teves, 5763

Nat Hentoff

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A true police state | If there were a contest naming which nation's government is the most vicious at crushing human rights and the human spirit, many countries would be leading contenders. I would vote for Zimbabwe, ruled by Robert Mugabe -- once its liberator, now its tyrant.

The United Nations' World Food program reported on Nov. 30 that food shortages in Zimbabwe are so severe that half the population -- more than 6 million people -- will be in acute need of food by March. But Andrew Natsios, the administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, testified before Congress in August:

"We now have confirmed reports in a number of areas in the most severely affected region of the country, which is the south, that food is being distributed to people who are members of Mugabe's political party and is not being distributed based on need. The children of opposition party members have been driven away from school supplementary feeding programs in rural areas."

In September, Adotei Akwei, Africa Advocacy director of Amnesty International U.S.A., told The New York Times that "people have been detained and tortured. In (Zimbabwe) now, literally, no one's safety and security is guaranteed if there is even the slightest doubt of support for President Mugabe."

The Amani Trust in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, monitors and treats black citizens of that country who have been tortured or otherwise punished as enemies of the state. Tony Reeler, clinical director of the Amani Trust -- which is supported by the U.N. Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and the Swedish Red Cross -- told Christina Lamb in the Aug. 25 Sunday Telegraph in London:

"We're seeing an enormous prevalence of rape and enough cases to say it's being used by the state as a political tool, with women and girls being raped because they are the wives, girlfriends or daughters of political activists. There are also horrific cases of girls as young as 12 or 13 being taken off to militia camps, used and abused and kept in forced concubinage. But I suspect, as with Bosnia, the real extent of what is happening is going to take a hell of a long time to come out."

Passed by Mugabe's controlled parliament, the Public Order and Security Act was enacted this past January. Described by Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York and Washington, the act makes it "an offence to make a public statement with the intention to, or knowing there is a risk of 'undermining the authority of or insulting' the president. This prohibition includes statements likely to engender 'feelings of hostility toward the president.'"

In October, Sandra Nyaira, former political editor of The Daily News in Zimbabwe, received this year's International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in New York. Accepting it, she said that "day in and day out, journalists in Zimbabwe work without knowing what the future holds for them -- could it be a bomb? Could you be thrown behind bars for being too critical?" Many have been arrested.

Yet, in November, The New York Times reported that "the South African foreign minister, Dr. Nkosazana Zuma, said it was time for Western nations to consider ending penalties they imposed on Zimbabwe. South Africa hailed Zimbabwe's presidential election in March as legitimate, even though officials eliminated polling stations in opposition strongholds, and the police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of people who were waiting to vote."

Where is Nelson Mandela, who fought so long and courageously for democracy in South Africa? Where, in this country, are women's groups; the black and white clergy that organized against slavery and gang rapes by government militia in Sudan; editorial writers; and the clamorous commentators on cable television? Where is Jesse Jackson?

Zimbabwe, mind you, is a member of the Untied Nations Human Rights Commission, seated comfortably with such other proudly undemocratic regimes as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Libya and Sudan. But then, remember that the United Nations ignored genocide in Rwanda, as did President Bill Clinton. Well, at least Mugabe has yet to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

I have yet to hear of any demonstrations on American college campuses to help children in Zimbabwe who are going hungry because their parents are in the wrong political party -- or to protest against the girls and women being raped for political reasons.

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JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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