WHEN up to 20 000 civilians are recorded as mass murdered — that is a genocide.
SUNDAY OPINION BY ADMORE TSHUMA
By genocide, I mean the destruction and targeting of an ethnic group through mass killings. The definition of genocide overlaps to crimes against humanity — this is what Ndebele-speaking people of south-western Zimbabwe have witnessed under the brutal rule of unrepentant 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
Philosophers Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes described the world as a constant state of fear and chaos, dominated by man’s instinctual self-serving and violent human nature. This could be the way Zimbabweans are viewing their country after Mugabe’s clear lack of remorse for the suffering he has caused upon his own people when he blatantly bragged about his crushing of “dissidents”.
If the record is to be set clearly, Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade did not hunt down dissidents, but targeted civilians. In fact, Mugabe forgave the dissidents by declaring an amnesty, but civilians bore the brunt.
The principal trigger of my masterpiece is that this week Mugabe spoke boastfully in nostalgia of the dissident era, warning dissenting war veterans that they should have learnt lessons from what he did in crushing dissident activity, a period correctly referred to as the “Gukurahundi era”. Mugabe’s brinkmanship at the official opening of the Zanu PF central committee meeting in Harare on Thursday smacks of an unrepentant person, whose hands are dripping with our blood.
According to media reports, Mugabe went on: “Dissidents tried it and you know what happened”.
What happened is summarised by a report by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), and the Legal Resources Foundation of Zimbabwe (LRFZ) when they state that: “Perhaps, the CCJP and LRFZ, (1999) correctly capture what went wrong in post-colonial Zimbabwe. People have been tortured, seen their loved ones murdered or abducted, had their houses burnt. No efforts have been made to alleviate their plight and those who caused the damage have not been made answerable” (1999, p30).
Mugabe’s statement informs us that he harbours a sentimental longing for the Gukurahundi/dissident period and would not mind to relive it. However, the Gukurahundi era is undoubtedly remembered by most Zimbabweans as the saddest chapter of their postcolonial history, which every sensible human being would try to forget.
While the rest of the world is seemingly now regretting certain atrocities that have occurred in the history of human kind — and thinking how they could have been avoided — this week Mugabe clearly boasted and praised his actions that resulted in mass murders in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces that left 20 000 Ndebele civilians dead between 1983 and 1984. This is the most perplexing act of inhumanity.
Mugabe’s North Korean trained Fifth Brigade was a military crack unit that was different from other units of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). The notorious brigade was answerable directly to Mugabe and operated outside the normal military chain of command. It is well-documented that the Fifth Brigade received training that was both military and political in content. This was a case of a partisan army murdering Ndebele civilians in an act of ethnic cleansing.
Many have been thinking Mugabe is probably regretting this chapter of our history, yet 30 years after presiding over Gukurahundi brutality — that murdered, raped and tortured a specific tribe, Ndebele civilians — he has come out clean to reflect his pride of that period. He has previously branded the same period as a “moment of madness”, now he is branding it an “achievement”. I fail to find a trend of postcolonial rule which is coincidentally parallel to Mugabe’s latest brinkmanship.
Reputable non-governmental organisations, including the International Association of Genocide Scholars, reiterate that up to 20 000 Ndebele-speaking civilians were murdered by Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade army which had been deployed to flush out dissident activity in the region.
In September 2010, the Genocide Watch called for the prosecution of Mugabe for genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the Fifth Brigade military conduct.
Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch said: “We call upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a full investigation of the Gukurahundi, with the aim of establishing a mixed UN-Zimbabwean Tribunal to put Mugabe and his co-perpetrators on trial for their crimes. They think they have gotten away with mass murder. It is time to end such impunity in Zimbabwe.”
In November 2009, United States President Barack Obama described the same period Mugabe is boasting of as a period of “systematic murder of many thousands of people… many of whom were buried in mass graves”. Obama said, the Gukurahundi era was the saddest chapter of Zimbabwe’s postcolonial history.
There is a general rule that civilians should never be a legitimate target of attack no matter what. Non-combatants should not be attacked, any attack violates their rights.
Furthermore, the Geneva Convention lay down that civilians are not to be subject to attack. This includes direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks against areas in which civilians are present. Precisely, it is unjust to attack non-combatants and it is unjust to attack indiscriminately, as non-combatants may be killed.
From the perspective of international law, if Mugabe had indeed wanted to wage a war ethically, it was his responsibility to impose certain obligations on the Fifth Brigade soldiers. These obligations include instructing them to avoid injuring civilians whenever possible and this means the army should have prepared to put their own lives at risk in order to limit civilian casualties.
The Fifth Brigade should have been taught the rules of war, and the reasons behind them. The Fifth Brigade must have been unambiguously given orders to comply with the rules of war.
Genocides or mass murders may cause more pain in terms of the horror felt by victims and others around the world that may recoil at the mass murder.
Similarly, Gukurahundi caused more pain to surviving family members. But Mugabe’s latest statement has increased the pain that is still felt by people of Matabeleland and Midlands areas today, who may lose faith in all humankind just thinking about the genocides.
But, what happens when perpetrators of genocide publicly boast of their genocidal record?
Zimbabwe’s human rights groups should file criminal complaints against Mugabe because he is boasting, in other words praising the Gukurahundi genocide that tortured and caused a lot of suffering, including wiping out families.
By deploying the Fifth brigade that targeted civilians, Mugabe flagrantly violated the international law, that is, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which had come to embody the conscience of humanity.
Through the Convention, the world has seen the creation of a genocide crimes court for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Genocide is undoubtedly a crime under the international law whether in time of peace or war.
The 1948 Convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups, such as killing members of the group, causing serious bodily harm 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….”
l Admore Tshuma is an expert on transitional justice. He completed his Ph.D at the University of Bristol, UK, where he was externally examined by a University of Oxford professor