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Zimbabwe: Debt tribunal verdict

NewsNotes, November-December 2009

On October 16, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai “disengaged” from his eight month old unity accord with President Robert Mugabe just before his top aide, Roy Bennett, was to go on trial for terrorism. According to analysts, the move allowed Tsvangirai to say that he had stood up to Mugabe and was not to be seen as a puppet of the government, but both sides have a lot to lose if the partnership ends, especially considering the fact that it has contributed to a measure of economic stabilization after years of crisis. Yet deep challenges remain.

On October 2, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) sponsored the Peoples’ Economic Justice Tribunal in Harare. In arriving at the verdict, the tribunal took into account the fact that economic, social and cultural rights are as important in society as civil and political rights and adhered to the principle of the universality of human rights. The tribunal also acknowledged that rights are interdependent, interrelated and indivisible and that the principal responsibility to ensure the general enjoyment of rights in Zimbabwe is the responsibility of the government and those international institutions that enter into multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreements with the government of Zimbabwe on economic development issues.

Given the scope of the evidence, documentation and testimony provided during the tribunal, the verdict recognized that, besides being unpayable, Zimbabwe’s debt is also illegitimate and immoral. Both the external and domestic debt were recognized as a permanent violation of economic, social and cultural human rights as established by the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the UN Charter and other international conventions that the Zimbabwean government has signed and ratified.

Specifically, the judges ruled that

  • Zimbabwe’s external debt is illegitimate and should be immediately repudiated and cancelled.
  • The people of Zimbabwe should be provided with reasonable compensation as appropriate from the defendants.
  • The government of Zimbabwe must do all within its powers, in its international relations, to ensure that banks, financial institutions and other economic agents are curtailed so that the recurrence of the growth of illegitimate debt is foreclosed.

In particular, they said:

  • Finance should be understood to be a public good, i.e. a means to promote development and not to make profit
  • The government of Zimbabwe must replace neo-liberal economic policies with more pro-people and pro-poor policies
  • In particular, the government of Zimbabwe is strongly advised not to resort to the Bretton Woods Institutions to resolve the current economic social crisis bedeviling the country.

In their October 1 pastoral letter “National Healing and Reconciliation,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference wrote: “Poverty of the marginalized majority, corruption, mismanagement of resources, sanctions, lack of transparency and accountability are continuing sources of conflict. In fighting for our undermined dignity and in defending our economic advantages, we have lost sight of the humanity of others.…

“As Zimbabweans, we have made very serious social, political and economic mistakes over the years. It is essential to identify the areas in which we have made these mistakes in order to respond to them. The main cause of conflicts in Zimbabwe is the consistent violation of human dignity and therefore human rights. We have prevented each other from attaining human fulfillment by depriving each other of life, education, shelter, health, information, freedom of speech and association, freedom of conscience, justice and peace…

“Reconciliation is a very demanding responsibility which calls for great commitment, dedication and sacrifice. We must support processes which are already happening in various communities. In May 2009 the Churches and Civil Society came up with a framework for national healing and reconciliation, which proposes a comprehensive process for intervention by Government, the Church, Civil Society and all levels of our society. The framework could serve as a starting point for healing our nation.”

Find the entire pastoral letter here.

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