“We the Peoples of the United Nations determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small …”
— Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations
This past March, and then again in June, the world watched with deep concern as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe stole the presidential election from the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe, the man who transformed Zimbabwe from the breadbasket of Southern Africa to a nation whose currency isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, has violently suppressed opposition to his rule and forced thousands to flee their homes.
Mugabe’s campaign of systematic violence swept unchecked across the country. Unfortunately, our “deep concern” wasn’t quite enough. Our “deep concern” won’t restore Zimbabwe’s economy, and it won’t bring back those who were killed or heal those who were tortured in Mugabe’s campaign of terror. But what’s really concerning is that the world doesn’t care.
The situation in Zimbabwe isn’t isolated. It represents a trend the world has seen again and again, and nothing good has ever come out of it. So, to keep things like this from happening, the leaders of our world gathered in San Francisco in 1945 and agreed, as nations united, to protect the fundamental rights and liberties of people the world over. And in that task, it failed and continues to fail.
The United Nations has utterly failed to protect the rights and liberties of people in virtually every venue where they have been threatened. There’s no reason to expect the United Nations to act any differently in the case of Zimbabwe. There’s no reason to expect the bureaucratic and legislative gridlock that has come to so completely characterize the UN will loosen for Zimbabwe.
But there is a first time for everything. In Zimbabwe, we have an opportunity to set a powerful precedent. As citizens of a UN member state, and more importantly, as human beings, we have an obligation to care about and to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe. At the very least, we have the obligation to talk about it. Awareness can be a powerful tool. But it probably won’t be enough.
The United Nations has tools at its disposal besides empty resolutions and economic sanctions. It may be naïve to suggest that the Security Council would ever agree to blue helmets on the ground in Harare, but if that were to happen, it would make leaders like Mugabe think twice before abusing their country and its people. Maybe it’s time to stop putting politics before people and to start getting things done. And in 2008, Zimbabwe can be where it begins.
Ethan Solomon is a member of the Class of 2012.