Expected Council Action
In February, Council members are expected to be monitoring the political situation and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe closely. It is unclear whether or when this might evolve into more concrete discussions.
Key Recent Developments
Zimbabwe has remained in the grip of a deteriorating humanitarian and political crisis since March, when the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won a majority of parliamentary seats from President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of presidential elections. Tsvangirai did not contest the June run-off election, however, citing state-orchestrated violence against his supporters. A power-sharing agreement brokered in September by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) remains unimplemented due to a political stalemate over control of key ministries.
Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe on 17 January in a fresh attempt to end the political crisis. However, the negotiations failed to produce a breakthrough and consideration was deferred to a SADC meeting on 26 January. That meeting concluded with two seemingly opposing statements on its outcome. While SADC’s communiqué indicated that the MDC had agreed to a timeline to form a unity government with Zanu-PF a subsequent MDC statement said that the party had not acceded to the timeline but stopped short of rejecting SADC’s conclusions outright. The MDC indicated that it would define its position by the close of that week. At press time this had not been made public. The sticking point still revolves around the distribution of government posts. The MDC feels it could be marginalised if it accepts a junior partner role hence its insistence that it should administer the home affairs ministry, which has oversight of the police, if the Zanu-PF retains control over the departments of national security and defence.
The gravity of the political stalemate was underlined by the collapse in recent months of the health, water and sanitation systems. A consequence was the onset of a cholera epidemic that since August has claimed more than 2,800 lives. The World Health Organization indicated that more than 50,000 people have been infected. Over 1,500 new cases emerge daily. An emergency report issued by Physicians for Human Rights in January described the health situation as a man made disaster, placed the blame on the Mugabe regime and called for urgent intervention by the UN and Zimbabwe’s neighbours to stem the loss of life.
Reports by leading international rights advocacy organisations like Human Rights Watch have indicated that repression of supporters of the opposition, human rights advocates and health workers—including those involved in fighting the cholera epidemic—has been rife.
On 22 November, the Zimbabwean government refused to issue entry visas to “Global Elders”, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former US President Jimmy Carter and Graça Machel, former first lady of South Africa and Mozambique. The three had said they were interested only in humanitarian and not political issues. Annan subsequently said that the situation in Zimbabwe was far worse than he had originally thought and said a tougher stance needed to be taken to end the political deadlock in the country.
On 15 December, the Council held a high-level closed formal meeting to consider the situation in Zimbabwe. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband were present. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed on developments in the country and reportedly described the situation as a failure of the leadership in Zimbabwe to address the political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crises. He indicated that Mugabe had not been forthcoming about UN direct involvement in mediation during his last meeting with him in Doha in late November. However, Mugabe had subsequently agreed to allow Assistant Secretary-General Haile Menkerios to visit the country. (Menkerios privately briefed the Council on the situation in Zimbabwe on 20 November.)
Council members apparently discussed the need to accelerate appropriate humanitarian relief and the importance of additional effort being made by the region to end the political crisis. No formal Council decisions were taken.
During a press conference on 17 December Ban called for better and quicker results from the SADC mediation in the Zimbabwe crisis.
The key issue for the Council is whether the SADC input will be accepted or whether that process has now reached the end. A related issue is whether the Council can now help resolve the political stalemate quickly and in a sustainable way restore the consensus in the Council in June 2008 when there was a Council decision in presidential statement S/PRST/2008/23.
convening a closed Council meeting and inviting SADC members to participate in it with the intention to review developments before moving to a more decisive phase;
sending a Council mission to meet with selected SADC leaders;
adopting a presidential statement similar in tone to that of the June 2008 presidential statement;
adopting a resolution condemning continued repression in Zimbabwe, expressing concern about the impact of the situation in Zimbabwe on peace and security in the region, and calling for an urgent resolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe;
revisiting the July 2008 discussions of sanctions against Zimbabwe leadership in light of the much worsened situation in Zimbabwe but perhaps adopting a sequenced approach under which sanctions would only come into effect if specific benchmarks were not met;
continuing formal and informal discussions on Zimbabwe but delaying a related formal statement until consensus is attained on how the Council should address the situation; and
deciding to keep the issue under review and requesting further briefings in the weeks ahead.
Council dynamics have undergone a fundamental shift from an initial lack of consensus when the Council first considered the situation in 2005 to that of an agreement on formal inclusion of Zimbabwe on the Council’s agenda in 2008, (albeit under the generic title “peace and security in Africa”). In June 2008 there was consensus on adopting a presidential statement. In July the consensus broke down and the Council failed to adopt a sanctions resolution.
Resistance to sanctions against Zimbabwe in the Council came from most of the Non-Aligned Movement group members but also from Russia and China. They argued that the political and humanitarian developments in the country were essentially internal in nature and thus not suitable for discussion in the Council.
In June 2008, three key factors contributed to the Council’s collective willingness to take up the situation:
the heightened level of political violence and dire humanitarian situation;
xenophobic attacks on refugees, including many Zimbabweans, in South Africa; and,
the 16 April call by eight Council members (Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Italy, Panama, the UK and the US) expressing concern about the situation in Zimbabwe and calling for free and fair elections during the high-level debate in the Council on peace and security in Africa.
When the Council on 11 July failed to adopt a draft sanctions resolution against certain individuals responsible for the political violence in Zimbabwe, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Italy, Panama, UK and US voted in the affirmative. China, Viet Nam, Libya and South Africa voted against the draft text, with Indonesia abstaining. Burkina Faso’s affirmative vote was noteworthy. It represented a change in position from African Council members’ traditional low-key stance of deferring to SADC mediation efforts.
During the period of negotiations over the implementation of the power sharing agreement there has been a willingness to keep the issue under review, and the Council has had briefings in private consultations by the Secretariat. However, there is still caution as to how to respond to developments in Zimbabwe in the wake of the failed attempt at adopting a sanctions resolution.
In December, members were comfortable with focusing on the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the need to end the stalemate in the political process. China and Russia, in a departure from past positions, reportedly did not insist that the situation in Zimbabwe was a purely internal political matter. The obvious security implications of a spill-over effect on neighbouring countries if the power sharing agreement collapses seems to be having an impact on the Council again. Council members are apparently closely following the African Union’s deliberations on Zimbabwe during its summit in Addis Ababa from 26 January to 3 February.
It remains to be seen how the five new non-permanent countries on the Council (Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda) will affect the dynamics. Uganda has indicated that it supports the AU’s position on Zimbabwe, highlighting the role of SADC. It appears that Austria, Japan and Mexico might prefer a more proactive role for the Council. The position of the new US administration will also likely play a role in changing the dynamics on the Council.
Health in Ruins: A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe, Physicians for Human Rights, January 2009
Crisis without Limits: Human Rights and Humanitarian Consequences of the Political Repression in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch, 22 January 2009