Vancouver – Oct. 19, 2006 – The Government of Canada has a key role to play in helping end the human rights catastrophe unfolding in Zimbabwe, says Gabriel Shumba, one of that country’s leading human rights lawyers. Mr. Shumba and Marilyn Tudor of the South Africa-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) are in Canada for a three-week public speaking tour sponsored by Rights & Democracy.
Mr. Shumba, Executive Director of ZEF, says the Government of Canada is uniquely positioned to take the lead in seeing international bodies like the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the African Union intervene in Zimbabwe and bring President Robert Mugabe’s government to account for its mass violations of human rights and democratc freedoms. The Government of Canada should also study the feasibility of using Canadian laws to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, notably Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
At the United Nations, the Government of Canada should ask the United Nations Security Council to fully consider employing the principle of Responsibility to Protect, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly last year. Canada was instrumental in drafting the principles behind the Responsibility to Protect, which obliges the international community to intervene in a country where the government is unable or unwilling to protect the rights of its citizens. Such measures could include international travel restrictions and targeted economic sanctions.
Mr. Shumba said the Commonwealth should continue to address Zimbabwe, despite the country’s formal withdrawal from the organization in December, 2003. Given that the Commonwealth regroups many countries with important ties to Zimbabwe, such as South Africa and the United Kingdom, it is an important multilateral forum where Canadian engagement and leadership on the issue of human rights in Zimbabwe is necessary.
According to Mr. Shumba, Canada is remembered and respected throughout region for the key role it played in bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa, and is looked to as an honest broker not tainted by a history of colonization. Canada is therefore well-positioned to work with and strengthen regional institutions like the African Union and the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights. Building strong regional institutions with a commitment to human rights, democracy and good governance will facilitate the long-term ability of Africans to address situations such as Zimbabwe.
With some of the most progressive pieces of legislation on the international promotion and protection of human rights, Canada is also uniquely positioned to take legal action against those responsible for human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Mr. Shumba believes Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act (2000) as well as Section 7(3.7) of Canada’s Criminal Code, which makes s.269.1 (Torture) of the Code subject to universal jurisdiction, could be used to indict representatives of Mr. Mugabe’s regime. On June 21, 2006, Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade adopted a motion calling on Canada’s Minister of Justice to assess the feasibility of bringing these laws to bear against the government of Zimbabwe. The motion asks the Minister of Justice to report back to the committee on Nov. 15, 2006.