This is the third in a series of blog posts by Auschwitz Institute interns who from October 2011 through March 2012 monitored countries for risk of genocide using the Analysis Framework of the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. This week we present the post by Yasmin Andrews, a graduate student in international relations at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. Yasmin monitored Zimbabwe for risk of crimes against humanity.

As a student of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, I was no stranger to the study and analysis of violence, war and political conflict. However, this internship took on quite a different timbre than my university studies. I was chosen as one of the first set of interns to monitor states “at risk” of the occurrence of genocide. My country of interest was Zimbabwe, which is currently embroiled in a myriad of problems that render the state incredibly vulnerable.

As a Genocide Prevention Monitoring Intern for the Auschwitz Institute, I have had to be incredibly alert to the happenings within Zimbabwe. My work entailed observing events, news and current opinions within the country in relation to the potential for mass atrocities or crimes against humanity. The UN OSAPG (Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide) provided us with a Framework of Analysis establishing detailed guidelines on different factors that could indicate the potential for genocide within a society, including issues such as independent media, human rights protection, propaganda, increases in arms, and any increased involvement by other states.

Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Through the training received from the OSAPG and the research conducted, it became very evident that genocide is not a spontaneous occurrence. The build-up in tension within a country, as well as the actual killing of its people, takes place over a period of time. It is targeted and planned and therefore not a spur-of-the-moment affair.

My partner Jeremy Garsha’s and my job differed slightly from that of the other monitoring interns, as mass atrocities and crimes against humanity are more likely to occur than genocide in Zimbabwe. However, the UN OSAPG framework was still utilized as an important guideline in our research. This difference in classification often results in blindness towards the threat of violence that is brewing within Zimbabwe’s borders.

Zimbabwe has a history of internal violence. The massacre that took place through Operation Gukurahundi in Matabeleland by the Fifth Brigade is widely termed as genocide. This 3500-strong group of ethnically Shona supporters of Mugabe killed approximately 20,000 villagers and tortured and assaulted countless others in January 1983. In addition to this history of violence and genocide, the current situation in Zimbabwe lends itself to monitoring. There is a lack of an independent judiciary, effective national human rights institutions and effective legislative protection. The government has failed to abolish oppressive legislation and has passed additional laws which are inimical to fundamental rights and freedoms, including the Non-Governmental Organizations Act, which looks to proscribe the work of human rights organizations.

Additionally, Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government, comprised of President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), have employed violence and tyranny to dominate government institutions and stem significant human rights advances. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been under attack from the excommunicated bishop, Dr. Nolbert Kunonga, since 2007. He has been able to intimidate Anglicans and with the support of members of the police force, he has denied many of their right to worship by seizing property belonging to the church. Churches have been forced to shut down and many have been forced at gunpoint to attend ZANU-PF rallies.

Additionally, the precedent of political violence, intimidation and corruption set by the 2008 elections is a cause for concern with the nation’s upcoming elections. UNICEF has reported a rise in the use of child labor and the lack of investigations or arrests for these abuses. A large number of NGOs, which provide basic services such as food and assisting the disabled, have been banned. Torture and other ill treatment of activists by police and members of Zimbabwe’s intelligence services remain a serious and systemic human rights problem in Zimbabwe. An alarmingly high proportion of these violations have been perpetrated by youth. Amnesty International’s call for Zimbabwean authorities to cease manipulating the country’s laws to persecute activists has fallen on deaf ears. Partisans of the Mugabe regime continue to benefit from a lack of accountability for past crimes. For example, a member of the Central Intelligence Organization connected to the murder of two MDC activists 12 years ago has still not been indicted. The African Union is unwilling to intervene and expel President Mugabe despite its mandate to maintain good governance in its member states. These are a few pertinent examples of the significant threat to the capacity to prevent mass atrocities in Zimbabwe.

The term “genocide” is a powerful word that many shy away from and are afraid to consider. When using the UN OSAPG framework to examine the cases of genocide in the past, such as when the Interahamwe killed 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, the indicators are visible. It is clear that there is a need for proper and effective monitoring efforts to prevent such a crime from ever occurring again.

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