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Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Mugabe sued over election killings
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe was served with the lawsuit during the UN summit
President Robert Mugabe is being sued in a United States court for alleged human rights abuses against political opponents in Zimbabwe.

The suit was filed by four Zimbabweans whose relatives were allegedly murdered by government supporters in the run-up to parliamentary elections in June.

If I was a vengeful leader, would he (Ian Smith) be walking the earth?

President Mugabe

The plaintiffs are seeking $400m in damages under a 200-year-old American law which gives foreigners the right to file civil suits in US courts for injuries suffered in violation of international law.

The US Government has objected to the suit against President Mugabe, citing concerns that he might be entitled to immunity while on a diplomatic visit. Mr Mugabe's spokesman described the legal action as a "non event."

Election violence

More than 30 people died in the election campaign, nearly all of them supporters of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Human rights activist Topper Whitehead said President Mugabe was served with the lawsuit while attending last week's UN millennium summit in New York.

The plaintiffs include an opposition candidate Elliot Pfebve, whose brother was murdered and Maria Stevens whose husband was the first white farmer to be killed during the election campaign.

Mrs Maria Stevens and her two children, Sebastian(l) and Warren(r)
Maria Stevens' husband was killed by squatters in April

The suit accuses of Mr Mugabe of resorting to violence so that his party, Zanu-PF could stay in power.

The plaintiffs say they are suing Mr Mugabe in the United States rather than Zimbabwe because of the continuing lawlessness in the country.

But speaking at a Harlem church, President Mugabe insisted that he does not seek revenge against opponents.

He noted that Zimbabwe's last white leader, Ian Smith was left to live.

"If I was a vengeful leader, would he be walking the earth?" Mr Mugabe asked.


Human rights groups have said President Mugabe's supporters used brutal tactics against the opposition MDC.

supporters of the MDC
Many of those killed were members of the opposition, MDC
As well as seeking damages, the four plaintiffs say they hope to open the eyes of the world to the record of what they call Mr Mugabe's "monstrous regime".

The opposition MDC welcomed the move, saying it provided a reminder to President Mugabe that although the rule of law did not prevail in Zimbabwe, it did in other parts of the world.

Those behind the legal action say they are concerned that it could be met with further violence, but are prepared to live with the consequences in their struggle for justice.

BBC's Grant Ferrett in Harare
"There has been no word from Mr Mugabe himself"
Zimbabwean Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo
"People have been playing games with the president for too long"
Civil rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson
"The real test is criminal law"

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See also:

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