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Home | ZimCrisis#53 -- The Zimbabwe Democracy Act of 2000 (Senate - June 07, 2000)

Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2000 10:26:06 -0700
To: "Zimbabwe Crisis Mailing List":;
From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis#53 -- The Zimbabwe Democracy Act of 2000 (Senate - June 07, 2000)
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Hi everyone,

At least there is someone in the US who is taking the Zimbabwe crisis seriously.


Statement in the Senate by Senator Feingold

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the Zimbabwe Democracy Act of 2000. I am very pleased to join my colleague, Senator Frist, in co-sponsoring this legislation and sending an unambiguous signal to the current government of Zimbabwe that the international community will not passively stand aside while that country's great promise is squandered; the United States will not remain silent while the rule of law is undermined by the very government charged with protecting a legal order; this Congress will not accept the deliberate dismantling of justice and security and stability in Zimbabwe.

Since the ruling party lost the outcome of a February referendum, in which voters rejected a new constitution which would have granted President Robert Mugabe sweeping powers, a terrible campaign of violence has gripped the country. Veterans of Zimbabwe's independence struggle and supporters of the ruling party have invaded a number of farms owned by white Zimbabweans. When the courts ordered the police to evict the invaders, President Mugabe explicitly continued to support the invasions, and called on the police force to ignore the court. Predictably, confusion and violence have ensued, and the rule of law, the basic protections upon which people around the world stake their safety and the safety of their families, has been seriously eroded.

This is not a race war. Let me repeat that - this is not a race war. Race is not the critical issue in Zimbabwe today. And no one need take my word for that. One need only look at the facts on the ground. One need only observe the disturbing frequency with which members of the opposition have been the targets of violence. It is the Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition party that has been rapidly gaining the support of the disillusioned electorate, that is the real target of President Mugabe's campaign. It is the electorate that rejected the ruling party's proposed constitution that is suffering, and this is not unprecedented. In the early 1980s, supporters of a rival political faction were brutally slaughtered in Matabeleland - a dark period in the young country's history for which there is still not a satisfying public account. So we must not be intimidated by the scape-goating of the power-hungry. Once there was a struggle against a terrible system of oppression, grounded in racial discrimination, in the country now called Zimbabwe. But that is not the heart of the matter today.

Nor is this crisis really about land tenure reform, although there is no question at all that land tenure reform is desperately needed and long overdue in Zimbabwe. But the government's past efforts at land reform have too often involved distributing land to key supporters of the ruling party, not the landless and truly needy. Fundamentally, land reform is about improving quality of life for the people of Zimbabwe - something that is utterly undermined by the violent tactics of the ruling party today.

So while this is not about race and it is not, at its core, about land, what this is about is an increasingly discredited President, who, watching his legacy turn increasingly into a source of shame rather than celebration, has hatched a desperate campaign to cling to power, even though this campaign, if successful, would render him the leader of an utterly broken country. Runaway government spending has led to high inflation and unemployment. Corruption infects the state. And, at this time of economic strain and hardship, the Government of Zimbabwe is spending over $1.5 million a month on its participation in the Congo conflict.

The Zimbabwe Democracy Act indicates that the U.S. will have no part of the terrible campaign of violence now compounding Zimbabwe's troubles. The bill suspends U.S. assistance to Zimbabwe while carving out important exceptions - humanitarian relief, food or medical assistance provided to non-governmental organizations for humanitarian purposes, programs which support democratic governance and the rule of law, and technical assistance relating to ongoing land reform programs outside the auspices of the government of Zimbabwe. And it articulates clear conditions for ending this suspension of assistance - including a return to the rule of law, free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, and a demonstrated commitment on the part of the Government of Zimbabwe to an equitable, legal, and transparent land reform program.

The bill also offers assistance to the remarkable forces working within Zimbabwe in support of the rule of law, in support of democracy, and in support of basic human rights for all of Zimbabwe's citizens. It establishes a fund to finance the legal expenses for individuals and institutions challenging restrictions on free speech in Zimbabwe, where the latest campaign has also included a media crackdown. The fund would also support individuals and democratic institutions who have accrued costs or penalties in the pursuit of elective office or democratic reform.

I had the chance to be in Zimbabwe in December, and I do not believe that I have ever encountered a more dynamic, committed, and genuinely inspiring group of civil society leaders than the group I met in Harare a few months ago. These forces must not be abandoned in Zimbabwe's time of crisis.

And, very responsibly, this legislation recognizes that Zimbabwe will need the assistance of the international community when it seeks to rebuild once the crisis has passed. It authorizes support for ongoing, legally governed land tenure reforms, and authorizes an innovative approach to facilitating the development of commercial projects in Zimbabwe and the region.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, and I commend Senator Frist and his staff for their efforts on this matter. Right now a country of great promise and a people of tremendous potential are enduring a terrible campaign of lawlessness and oppression. Right now, one of the most important states on the African continent, economically and politically, is in crisis. To write off Zimbabwe, to lose this opportunity to speak and act on the matter, would be a terrible mistake.

States descend into utter chaos in stages. Let us move to arrest Zimbabwe's descent today, not next year, when the problems will be more complex and more deeply entrenched, and not after 5 years of crisis, when Afro-pessimists will undoubtedly ignore the country's proud history and cynically assert that Zimbabwe cannot be salvaged. Let us be far-sighted, let us act now, pass this legislation, and stand firmly behind the forces of law, of democracy, and of justice in Zimbabwe.

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Brief list of helpful sites on the issue:
- Zimbabwe Crisis Mailing List Archives -- http://www.niner.net/zimcrisis
- Comprehensive news updates -- http://www.1freespace.com/beetee
- Offers of and requests for help for Zimbabweans -- http://pub9.ezboard.com/boffersofhelp
- Commercial Farmers' Union -- http://www.mweb.co.zw/cfu
- Movement for Democratic Change -- http://www.in2zw.com/mdc
- Zimbabwe Democracy Trust -- http://www.zimbabwedemocracytrust.org
- BSAP Pursuit of Zimbabwean Criminals -- http://www.bsaphq.f9.co.uk