Health Crisis in Zimbabwe Deepens; Could Be Referred to International Criminal Court

Physicians for Human Rights have suggested that the health crisis in Zimbabwe should be referred to the International Criminal Court for further investigation.  Although the report recognizes that criminal prosecution at the International Criminal Court has not yet “addressed crimes against humanity in the context of willful and state-sponsored actions that lead to massive loss of life resulting from, for example, failures to respond to epidemics, active obstruction of humanitarian aid, or the deliberate destruction of health systems,” such action is not beyond the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction.  Physicians for Human Rights has also called upon the UN to take control of Zimbabwe’s health service.


The report was signed by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.


Under Robert Mugabe‘s rule, Zimbabwe has battled a cholera outbreak that, according to new numbers from the U.N. World Health Organization, has killed 2,024 since August.  The total number of people infected has surged passed 40,000.  The life expectancy fell from 62 years for both men and women in 1990 to 34 years for men and 37 years for women in 2006, the world’s lowest. Zimbabwe experiences around 400 deaths a day from HIV/AIDS.  Maternal mortality in Zimbabwe has risen from 168 deaths per 100,000 in 1990 to 1,100 per 100,000 in 2005.


Under international law, Zimbabwe is obligated to provide a minimum level of access to health care to its citizens.  Zimbabwe is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Government has a legally binding obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights for all people within its jurisdiction.


The Mugabe-led government has exacerbated the problems facing Zimbabweans blocking international humanitarian organizations from delivering food aid and humanitarian aid to populations in the worst-affected rural areas.

Zimbabwe‘s cholera outbreak has sparked fears that the epidemic has spread to northern neighbor Zambia and southern neighbor South Africa who have seen an increase in cholera-related deaths.