Globe and Mail
Angelique Kidjo and Julio Montaner
4 January 2009
Anglique Kidjo is an award winning singer and songwriter from Benin, and the co-founder of the Batonga Foundation. The Batonga Foundation supports education and schooling for girls in Africa. Dr. Julio Montaner is president of the International AIDS Society and British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Both serve on the advisory board for the AIDS-Free World.
Maiba is in her late 40s. More than 20 children live under her care her own children and those of her deceased siblings. In June, she was captured, gang-raped and severely beaten by youth militia, members of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party, as punishment for saying she had no food to give them. Afterward, they literally dragged her home and ransacked her house. She said what hurt her most was knowing that her attackers were young enough to be her sons. She said they threatened to kill her if she talked to the police, but she talked anyway. She felt she was already dead.
In the weeks before the sexual torture of Maiba (not her real name), there was still no clear winner from Zimbabwe's March 29 election, and President Robert Mugabe's future was in jeopardy. We have since seen a presidential runoff that ostensibly ended in a tie, months of power-sharing talks obstructed by Mr. Mugabe's lust for absolute authority, the terrible spectacle of a country disintegrating, assorted toothless bleating from world leaders. Meanwhile, the people of Zimbabwe, particularly the women, have been bloodied and broken under a nationwide campaign of sexual violence, meticulously orchestrated during the election period to maintain Mr. Mugabe's control. They endure intimidation, rape, torture, murder, the spectre of HIV and the fear of more to come. () Zimbabwe is a very loudly ticking time bomb. Health care and education are distant memories. Patients on HIV drugs can no longer get them. Cholera rages. Human-rights activists disappear for weeks on end while the government claims ignorance of their whereabouts. ()
In November, we learned from rights groups that the women raped between May and June, systematically and on orders of the government, number in the many hundreds and perhaps thousands. Interviews with survivors show clear patterns in the timing of the attacks, in the verbal threats against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, in the organized ways that groups of men methodically confiscated MDC materials, in the method of rampaging through homes, abducting the women and brutalizing them at orture bases for hours or days.
Testimony has been handed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. An urgent letter was faxed to members of the Security Council, which met but took no action. It's time for the UN to do its job because, we can assure you, the siege against women is about to resume. ()
It need not happen. Although the people of Zimbabwe have been rendered powerless, the leaders of the world have unanimously agreed that UN member states have a responsibility to protect when a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens from precisely these sort of threats. Member states have legions of experts on peace and justice at their disposal. They could decide to send peacekeepers to Zimbabwe. They could further ostracize Mr. Mugabe. They could appoint a new negotiator to work out a viable power-sharing arrangement. They could let women into those negotiations, since women are bearing the most extreme brunt of the crisis. It's not for us to decide. But it is for us for all of us to remind our elected leaders of their responsibility to protect. For the raped women of Zimbabwe, for the people of Zimbabwe and for us, so we can stand without shame.