Guku team turns focus on Horn of Africa

Some of the world's most respected human-rights lawyers including a number who first categorized Gukurahundi as a genocide have focused attention on another tyrant.

Dr Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch: first to declare that Gukurahundi was a genocide

Dr Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch: first to declare that Gukurahundi was a genocide

More than a dozen professors and doctoral fellows have written a letter to newspapers around the world, calling for freedom in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

All are members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the grouping that, from 2009, was instrumental in opening discussion on how Gukurahundi should be viewed in the context of global justice.

Among them is Prof. Gregory Stanton of George Mason University near Washington DC who founded the monitoring group, Genocide Watch. In 2010, The Zimbabwean carried ran an exclusive in which Genocide Watch first classified the Matabeleland killings as genocide.

Since then, colleges and universities around the world, and the Holocaust Museum in Johannesburg, have followed suit, and the death of somewhere between 20 000 and 40 000 civilians in Matabeleland in the 1980s has been included in studies of crimes against humanity.

Map of Djibouti

Map of Djibouti

There has been speculation that the change of focus is among reasons why the leadership of ZANU-PF is determined to retain power. Genocide is often described as the “crime of  crimes,” and has no statute of limitation, meaning those accused can be prosecuted regardless of how much time has passed since the event.

A number of alleged concentration-camp guards from the Nazi era in Germany have recently gone on trial even though all are in their nineties.

From 1983 to 1987, the Fifth Brigade – answering directly to Robert Mugabe – slaughtered thousands across Matabelaland and the Midlands Province, with countless more driven into exile. Many of those taken in for questioning by the Brigade are still missing.

Now, academics have set their sights on tiny Djibouti, a former French colony perched strategically at the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. While there are no claims of genocide, the group warns that dictatorship leads to the kind of instability that can, in turn, gives way to mass killings.

Professor Stanton wrote the terms of reference for courts established after the Rwanda genocide of 1994, and helped set up similar trials in Cambodia. Over the years, Dr Stanton has written several opinion pieces for The Zimbabwean.

On 19 December, Djibouti police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing somewhere around 29 people and injuring others. Numbers have been hard to confirm because there is no free press in the country, and the only website editor to publish a photograph of the shooting was arrested.

Unlike Zimbabwe, Djibouti is a member of the International Criminal Court or ICC at The Hague.

Djibouti holds its next election on Friday 8 April, but the opposition is boycotting the vote. On 2 April, authorities expelled a BBC news crew for interviewing an opposition candidate while the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a statement saying press freedom is so limited in Djibouti, it casts doubt on the electoral process.

In a case that mirrored the 2003 “treason trial” of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the government of President Ismaïl Guelleh recently lost a $130m London court battle against opposition leader Mr Abdourahman Boreh who had been charged with corruption. Instead, papers submitted to the court showed widespread abuse of the tender system by President Guelleh and his family.

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