The Nature of Human Rights Violations

(Update: Western diplomatic sources say Robert Mugabe close to resignation after negotiations with opposition party)

The question is this: what constitutes a human rights violation?

Now, the mind conjures all sorts of things when you think of that phrase. Genocide. Rape. War. Abu Ghraib. 9/11.

What about a bad economy? Are basic human rights violated when a loaf of bread costs thousands of dollars?

Zimbabwe strong man Robert Mugabe has presided over a government that is the very portrait of economic ineptitude. This guy has been in power since 1980 and, despite a recent election that opponents say was rigged, he appears poised to remain the head of state in Zimbabwe for another six years. He is 84 years-old.

Yes, Mugabe has been accused of having political opponents killed, but that, arguably, isn't his worst crime. Consider this: Zimbabwe has the world's worst rate of inflation. Toilet paper costs $147--for a single piece. Unemployment is at 80 percent. Most agree it is Mugabe's grip on power, and his inability to govern with any semblance of competence, that has led to one of the worst economies in the world...the results of which are just as deadly as outright violence. Indeed, it might be worse. Death from poverty is much more painful than death by a bullet, is it not?

So, how does one measure human rights violations? By the dead bodies on the evening news, or by the cries of untold millions whose stories are never told?

Look, part of the justification of taking military action against Iraq was that by removing Saddam Hussein, our government was removing the source of much human suffering in that country. No doubt he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent lives. And they hanged him for it.

But, again, human rights violations are not so easily quantified by the definable body count. Yes, hundreds of Kurds suffered a most painful death by Saddam's gas attacks. But was their suffering any less than the poorest of the poor, begging for bread on the streets of Harare? If they deserve justice--and they do--who is to deliver it to them?

We will. No, not by sending the Marines to liberate the people from an oppressive government, only to give them an oppressive military occupation. It will take the Church, operating both individually and corporately, putting its faith in action. My brothers and sisters in Christ--and those friends and colleagues of mine who are unBelievers--understand that situations like this presents to us an opportunity to make a true difference in the world. People are suffering. People are dying. Men like Robert Mugabe are agents of evil in a fallen world. We can be agents of change.

* The United Nations operates a Web site called ReliefWeb, which is a repository for humanitarian information throughout the world. You can do directly to the Zimbabwe section here, or visit the home page here.

* World Vision is one of the finest relief organizations in the world. While there are organizations to which you can donate vast sums of money, World Vision operates on an individual level, providing you an opportunity to impact a single child's life through sponsorship. Visit the World Vision Web site here. (Perhaps it is a sign of just how bad things are on the ground in Zimbabwe that World Vision sponsorship isn't available there.)

* International Rescue Committee has been providing relief to humanitarian crises since the 1930s. Visit its Web site here.

* Samaritan's Purse operates both locally and globally, and its mission partners real, your-hands-get-dirty volunteer work with a Christ-centric message.

* Finally, the lazy man's version of philanthropy is Ripple. You'll find a Ripple button on the right-hand side of this page. Each time you click on one of the four items on the button--water, food, education, money--real dollars are donated via Ripple to a relief organization that supplies relief based on the chosen resource. So, give it a click and see how it works.

(For more information about what's going on in Zimbabwe, click here. To read an old story about its economic woes, click here. Visit Robert Mugabe's Wikipedia entry here.)

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