The Responsibility to Protect and The International Community’s Response to The Humanitarian Crisis in Zimbabwe: Mirrors or Smoke Screen
The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) is an interdisciplinary normative framework that reconceptualises state sovereignty as a responsibility rather than a right. It obliges states to protect their people from humanitarian catastrophe, and in the event of state failure or unwillingness to heed this responsibility, it requires of the broader international community to assume the residual duty to protect. It is in this context that this paper examines the reaction of the international community to the humanitarian crisis that erupted in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2009 and considers the extent to which its responses have been guided (implicitly or explicitly) by RtoP principles. The evolution and consolidation of the humanitarian crisis will be considered, with specific focus on the human security impact of government policies, in particular Operation Murambatsvina (the destruction of what were deemed illegal housing structures in major cities in Zimbabwe in May 2005). Increased militarisation of governance structures in the country, and its instrumental role in the crisis is also considered. Narratives on the crisis in Zimbabwe reveal that the government of Zimbabwe defaulted on its sovereign responsibilities, thus necessitating RtoP-guided action by the international community. A specific analytical instrument – the RtoP ‘Tool Box’ developed by Gareth Evans in 2008 (and expanded on in 2013 by the International Coalition of the Responsibility to Protect) – is applied to derive the appropriateness of specific responses in each of the three RtoP sub-responsibilities, namely prevention, reaction and rebuilding. This paper argues that responses of various international actors were significantly influenced by diverse, often mutually exclusive, interpretations of the main causes of the crisis. While some argue that the Zimbabwean crisis did not amount to crimes against humanity and, therefore, at no stage called for the RtoP norm to be invoked, others contend that the crisis did indeed warrant intervention of such a nature. Thus, implicit in the discussion of the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is the question of whether or not the regime’s actions (or lack thereof) amounted to a systematic abuse of the civilian population. A salient finding is the extent to which politicization of RtoP undermines its operationalization. From lack of political will to implement decisions or to respond to early warning of looming catastrophe; to real or perceived agendas that mask the agendas of intervening entities, the RtoP debate is continuously subject to a political narrative. This is evidenced by the absence of timeous or effective responses to humanitarian crisis that was allegedly induced by the government of Zimbabwe. As has become evident since the World Summit endorsed RtoP in 2005, there is no global consensus yet on the norm. This is glaringly evident in terms of its implementation (or lack thereof). This paper however concludes that RtoP principles have become an indelible part of the discourse on humanitarian intervention, both when the norm is invoked explicitly and when major actors downplay its invocation as in the case of Zimbabwe.
Key Words: Responsibility to Protect, Zimbabwe, International Community, Humanitarian Crisis, Human Security and State Sovereignty.